What's the matter with Google Earth's Ancient Rome?
Just how great is the new Google Earth 3D recreation of ancient Rome? The one that is supposed to let you wander through the streets of the city, in virtual reality authenticated and developed by academics from the University of Virginia.
Inspired by the enthusiastic reviews and having a bit of time on my hands now that the lectures have finished, I decided to spend an hour exploring the site.
No, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped.
For a start, it proved impossible to load it onto my relatively new Mac laptop. So I had to wait till I got to my newer and larger office desktop. Here it loaded OK, but it still wasn’t all plain sailing. Maybe if I had more experience of computer games, I’d be more adept at the controls of this sort of thing. But for it wasn’t so much a pleasant stroll through the ancient streets, but a ghastly roller coaster of a ride. As with Google Maps, an inadvertent click on the mouse and you find yourself zooming wildly in and out – and in this case, given half a chance, the reconstruction of the ancient monuments dissolved uncontrollably into an image of the archaeological ruins and back again.
After 30 minutes of this I had a fearful headache and felt a bit as if I’d been on a rough Channel crossing. And I never did manage to do anything remotely like ‘walk through the Forum’. Practice at the controls would no doubt help.
But was the whole thing any good?
Just as there were whole generations brought up to imagine a luscious Rome through the eyes of Alma-Tadema (full of scantily clad women and rose-petals), so there will now be millions who envisage the ancient city as a version of Sim City – slightly threatening, over-clean, depopulated and under-coloured. It doesn’t matter terribly, so long as we don’t confuse it any ancient reality.
There’s also the question of quite how ‘authoritative’ the information we are given here is. You can click on a whole variety links to find out more about the building concerned. But an large number just take you to Wikipedia, with all the lack of quality control that implies.
But there are also some very odd oddities. I concentrated on the area around the Temple of Vesta and the Arch of Titus (in the picture) in the Forum. Now, I don’t keep completely up to date with discoveries in the city o Rome, and the picture of the ancient city DOES change every day. But was there really a small temple directly in front of the Arch of Titus to the west, as my version of GoogleEarth has it?
I may have missed something. But if anyone can explain, I’d be grateful.