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Dynamic change in the Eternal City

Archaeologists from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Excellence Cluster TOPOI make history of the ancient Forum Romanum accessible in 3D format

Tahir Square in Cairo, the Maidan in Kiev – The two current examples in our own times demonstrate how public spaces have been revived as arenas of political communication and public action in modern cities. This may be surprising, given that modern urban squares have long been regarded as relics of past times, only attracting the attention of zealous traffic engineers and tourists. This revived interest in public squares is reflected in historic urban research, as shown by the research and teaching project digitales forum romanum at the Winckelmann Institute of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Academics and students have been creating a new 3D model of the ancient Forum Romanum in collaboration with the Excellence Cluster TOPOI and the architecture department of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). It was here in this public square in Rome that history was made and politics conducted. This is where the fate of the city and the Roman Empire was controlled from, where the public and political life of the greatest metropolis of the ancient world was concentrated for over 1000 years, and the location of what, since the end of the 19th century, has been the most famous archaeological site in the heart of the Eternal City.

Source: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin / Winckelmann Institute

"Although our digital reconstruction of the Forum Romanum is not the first of its kind, our model has another, scientifically critical objective", explains Professor Susanne Muth from the Department of Archaeology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin who is leading the project. "While other digital reconstructions are primarily focused on visualising a lost appearance of the Forum, we are more concerned with using our reconstruction as an aid to making the Forum more ‘comprehensible’". The idea for this research project arose in the context of an interdisciplinary research group of the Excellence Cluster TOPOI (the important research network between Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin, with further Berlin-based institutions), which researches the construction and perception of ancient urban spaces. The implementation of the project succeeded as a result of becoming involved in teaching. Under the leadership of Susanne Muth and Armin Müller of TOPOI, students of Humboldt-Universität have created successive digital reconstructions of the buildings on the Forum. Since 2013, these have been integrated into a comprehensive model of the entire forum square.

The new model of the digitales forum romanum combines for the first time reconstructions of the Forum throughout various epochs, thus making urban developments visible, findings which may also be profitable for current debates about urban land use. "With our new model we are opening up a fascinating and exciting new territory. The fact that some of the dynamic changes in the square were so radical was not something that we had been expecting", explains Erika Holter, coordinator of the project.

From the very start of the project, twenty students have been working on this with commitment and scientific diligence. "Integrating the students in current research work has turned out to be fortuitous both for the students, who were able to make a direct contribution to scientific research, as well as for the project, by having so many dedicated people who were able to contribute their expertise and commitment", emphasised Susanne Muth.

The preliminary results will now be presented on an open access website.

Further information

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Prof. Dr. Susanne Muth
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Department of Archaeology

Phone: +49 30 2093-98130