Ancient Rome reborn on Google Earth, thanks to AAR Trustee Bernard Frischer FAAR ’76, RAAR ’97

You’ve got to see it to believe it.

It’s 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.

Now 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. It’s instantly been heralded as “the biggest, most complete simulation of an historic city ever created.”

And the person who has made Google’s new Ancient Rome 3D possible is Bernard D. Frischer of the University of Virginia—an American Academy in Rome Fellow (1976), Resident (1997), and current Trustee.

Frischer, the director of UVA’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, is a prominent Latinist who also is widely recognized as a pioneer in the application of digital technologies to humanities research and education.

“For nearly three decades”, writes Elisabetta Povoledo in The New York Times, “Professor Frischer has been the driving force of an effort to bring ancient Rome to virtual life. The Google Earth feature is based on his Rome Reborn 1.0, a 3-D reconstruction first developed in 1996 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and fine-tuned over the years with partners in the United States and Europe.”


Those partners were archaeologists, architects and computer experts from Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, and especially the Rome-based company Past Perfect Productions, which specializes in three-dimensional cultural heritage models.

“Of the 7,000 buildings in the 1.0 version,” continues Povoledo, “around 250 are extremely detailed. (Thirty-one of them are based on 1:1 scale models built at UCLA) The others are sketchier and derived from a 3-D scan of data collected from a plaster model of ancient Rome at the Museum of Roman Civilization here”, i.e., in the Italian capital. For Ancient Rome 3D, sophisticated multi-level “information bubbles” pop up as an authoritative guide to the major monuments, geared both for novice and specialist users.


The Arch of Constantine and the Colossus, with Colosseum to right

Unveiling the colllaboration today in Rome, Mayor Gianni Alemanno said: “We’re delighted even more people all over the world can now enjoy the heritage of our great city. It’s an incredible opportunity to share the stunning greatness of Ancient Rome, perfect example of how the new technologies can be ideal allies of our history, archeology and cultural identity.”

The event was attended by Google Earth founder Michael T. Jones and dignitaries from the municipality of Rome and the Italian government.

Press coverage has been massive, and the YouTube video above received almost 75,000 views in its first 24 hours after posting.


What next?

“Up to now, the project has been conducted by a relatively small group of invited participants” writes Frischer in an Op-Ed piece to accompany the Google Earth launch. “But thanks to the new technology, we hope soon to open up the project to all qualified contributors, who can submit their work for peer-review and see it published as part of the overall temporal-spatial model of the city in an online journal dedicated to world cultural heritage. In so doing, we hope to speed the day when it will be possible to track Rome’s development over the first 1500 years of life in The Eternal City.”

To view Ancient Rome 3D go to the Layers panel of Google Earth, select Gallery, then Ancient Rome 3D.


Bernard Frischer with his wife, classicist and UVA professor Jane Crawford, FAAR’82, at Castel Gondolfo

Warm thanks to Professor Frischer for his help with this article, and for sending us the full text of his Google Op-Ed piece for download. Images courtesy of


2 Responses to “Ancient Rome reborn on Google Earth, thanks to AAR Trustee Bernard Frischer FAAR ’76, RAAR ’97”

  1. darnellrhone Says:

    The Rome Reborn project is simply amazing! These groundbreaking highly detailed images made me feel as if I was living in Ancient Rome today. The Ancient Rome 3D program made me truly appreciate the Roman lifestyles and their amazing accomplishments and creations. While viewing the Colosseum I was awe struck due to the fact that its architecture was unbelievably advanced for its time!

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

    […] It’s 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. […]

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