Mirabile browsu: RU students rate Google Earth’s new ‘Ancient Rome 3D’

By now, you’ve probably at least heard about a new layer in Google Earth that takes you back to Rome in the day of emperor Constantine the Great. The day 21 June in the year AD 320, to be precise.

Google Earth’s 400 million estimated users are free to navigate the entire ancient city within the circuit of the 13-mile Aurelian Walls, peeking inside many buildings and monuments. More than half a million folks have viewed this YouTube video of what it does within a week of posting:

This collaboration between Google and the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (directed by classicist Professor Bernard Frischer) has instantly been heralded as “the biggest, most complete simulation of an historic city ever created.”

On first seeing it, Rutgers Classics visiting professor Matt Fox put down his well-worn text of Lucan and exclaimed ‘mirabile browsu‘! And RU Classics chair Corey Brennan has written about it in detail here.

But let’s turn to the real experts. A survey of Rutgers undergraduates studying Roman Civ this term suggests that they are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Google’s latest killer app.

“I thought that Ancient Rome 3D was a fun and simple way to learn about Ancient Rome,” says Ciara Coffman ’09. “The website was so easy to navigate through that I found myself clicking away until I had visited each temple, amphitheater, bathhouse, and garden.”

Adds Mary Stevens ’12, “As someone who traveled to Rome earlier on in the year to see the Roman Forum and Colosseum, I am in awe of how perfectly Google Earth has managed to recreate all of the prominent buildings of early Rome. And with features that allow you to tour the inside of most buildings and acquire more information about them with a simple click of your mouse, there is no doubt that Google Earth for ancient Rome is opening up a whole new world for exploration … I’m amazed!”


Akshar Yagnik ’11 has also been to Rome, and says “I wish I had this tool before I went so I could familiarize myself with what I was about to see. And now several years later I am able to revisit and relearn some of the sights with real non-animated pictures of the actual buildings.”

“Google Earth’s reconstruction of Ancient Rome looks promising to those, like myself” says K. Mistry, a junior Art History and French double major, “who are particularly interested in studying the city’s urban design and architecture…Although the graphics are somewhat cartoon-like, they nevertheless offer the viewer the opportunity to experience Ancient Rome as it looked during the time of the Emperor Constantine.”


“Being able to virtually climb over the Pincian Hill”, observes Thomas Clickner ’11, “and experience the wonders of the Garden of the Acilii provides a wonderful insight to the world of Ancient Rome through this new program.”

“Visiting this place was nothing different than like a day trip to New York,” says Matt Forbes ’09, “I feel like I’ve ‘been there.’ The sophistication of ancient Rome itself is pretty remarkable. Why don’t we have a Septizodium in NYC!?”

And a junior majoring in Art History at Rutgers: “No longer will people use Google Earth only to view their house and their neighborhood from an aerial perspective. Now they can actually do something of importance!”


Old school lessons in Roman topography: Rutgers glass ‘lantern’ teaching slides from the 1930s

But wait…that’s just half the Google story!

To think that it was just a few short weeks ago—29 October 2008—that Google Maps rolled out its amazing Street View gazeteer now for Milan, Florence…and Rome. There’s no cheaper way to get to the Via dei Fori Imperiali, and pretty much every other street in the Eternal City within the Grande Raccordo Anulare.


If it’s marked blue, you can go there, virtually…just click on that little yellow person for a street perspective…


The Flavian Amphiteater a.k.a. Colosseum from the Via dei Fori Imperiali…


And to the right, tourists on the sidewalk taking in the remaining mid-1930s maps showing the growth of Rome…


…which no longer include the larger map at far right, showing Italian expansion as it stood in 1936. Photograph by NJ College for Women (=Douglass College) faculty in 1936 or 1937.

‘Ancient Rome 3D’ images courtesy of http://www.romereborn.virginia.edu/

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