Sunday 12 May 2019

The Past and Future meet in Rome.

by Antonia Senior

A smaller than usual post this month, because we've all been horribly ill and the house and my work are in chaos. Before the plague hit South London, I was lucky enough to go to Rome for the weekend with a group of girlfriends. We jettisoned kids, dogs and husbands in favour of culture, vats of vino blanco and the kind of carb-and-ice cream fest that induces near comas.

The visit was serendipitous. Despite being booked a year ago, it coincided with the opening of the Domus Transitoria to the public for the first time. Hidden underneath later Flavian additions on the Palatine, the Domus Transitoria was Nero's palace before the great fire of AD 64. 

We arrived early on the Palatine - before the crowds. It was gloriously empty, with wildflowers pocking the grass under a blue, Spring sky. 

I'd booked the tickets in advance, along with entrance to the Houses of Augustus and Livia. I had visited these roped off parts of the Palatine a few years earlier, but wanted to visit again to show them to my friends. It was a good decision - the people behind the archaeological park have utterly embraced technology, and the results are inspiring.

When I first visited, we had a guide - who was excellent but expensive. This time, we were treated to a show. Lights and video picked out the extraordinary frescoes and completed them in front of our eyes. The mosaics were extended, and explained. It was atmospheric and incredible - and we had it completely to ourselves, while outside, crowds traipsed through the usual paths. And it was cheap. I don't quite know why it was so empty: I booked here -

There is now a similar light and sound show now at the Domus Aurea - Nero's post-fire palace. I saw that a few years ago, wearing a hard hat, again with a guide. I am planning another trip to Rome next year, just to see what they've done with the light and video at the incredible, extensive Aurea complex. 

After the Houses of Augustus and Livia, it was time for the main event. We descended some hidden stairs into the cold, underground world. The first room you enter is the Nymphaeum, once a sort of fountained hall. 

It's atmospheric in the way of ruins - it needs a little imagination and some borrowed expertise to bring it alive. But, the experts here have gone one step further. They have introduced Virtual Reality headsets. After donning the sets, we watched the ruins transform into an incredible hall. We watched eras come and go. We got vertigo, as the floor dropped away behind beneath us, then remade itself. We flew upward, soaring up and above the atriumed roof to see exactly where we were in the incredible Cityscape of Julio-Claudian Rome. 

Us with our headsets on - feeling much cooler than we looked!

In one sense, you lose something. I love an ancient ruin - and the sense of scrambling across the sad remnants of history. But it is brilliantly done, and the virtual reality is incredible. It was genuinely quite terrifying when the floor appeared to drop away. A perfect marriage of past and future.

1 comment:

Ruan Peat said...

I enjoy visiting old ruins and museums, but my family do not so we end up with half days of visits and half days of their things! I would love to see these ruins, I have time off in June and have tickets already booked to see an old castle and a townhouse, I also have plans for a folk museum and walks to iron age forts! also, I have a week off on my own, the rest are working so I am going to please myself.