Looking at Rome as you never did before

The app Imperial Fora allows users to explore the fora area of Rome in four different moments in time

The app Imperial Fora allows users to explore the fora area of Rome in four different moments in time. Photo by Ratatos

To me, history is like morning coffee, I need it to function. I always loved it, since I was a child, and I’ve ended up making it the subject of my master’s degree and of my doctorate. 
 
No wonder, then, I got very curious about the creation of a new app dedicated to Rome and how it looked like in different moments of its glorious past.
This application allows everyone to appreciate the transformations of Rome from antiquity until the present day. Photo by scaligerThis application allows everyone to appreciate the transformations of Rome from antiquity until the present day. Photo by scaliger
Imperial Fora allows users to explore the fora area of the city in four different moments in time. 125 AD, at the very apogee of Rome’s imperial power; 1450, when the city was enjoying the cultural ferment of the Renaissance; 1750, when neo-classical aesthetics dictated artistic trends and, last, 1815, just after the napoleonic era. 
The project, which allows to travel in time and witness the most important moments in the  city’s development, is the brainchild of 3D Rome, an engaging project merging together 3D technology and archaeology. Created in 2011 thanks to the collaboration among art historians, architects, archaeologists and 3D experts, the project aims at bringing the Eternal City’s glorious past back to life, making it enjoyable and immediate for the fruition of all. 
 
Its author, Sergio Fontana, who is also director of the 3D Rome project, has recently declared that  Imperial Fora “allows us all to appreciate how Rome has changed in time, from Antiquity to our own days, using a very popular means of communication which is, nevertheless, supported by a plethora of scientific, historical and archaeological studies.” 
It took the good part of five years to the 3D Rome team to develop the app, which also received the support of Rome City Council.
The app Imperial Fora allows users to explore the fora area of Rome in four different moments in timeThe app Imperial Fora allows users to explore the fora area of Rome in four different moments in time
Imperial Fora: exploring the app
The app focuses on one specific location in the city, that of the fora and its surroundings. To make it clearer for those of you who are less familiar with Rome, we’re talking about the area leading to the Colosseum, coming from Piazza Venezia.
From the app’s homepage you can choose to explore the area’s history, its map or to delve directly into its 3D reconstructions. Curious as ever, I immediately tried the 3D section: introduced to the area through an easy to understand, Google Earth-style map, all 3D features are marked by a tridimensional bubble. The two dimensional map is ideal to locate visually the area of the fora within the city. 
 
There is more: each relevant historical feature, both in the 3D and 2D maps, is named and clickable, which means you can access information simply and quickly (as well as a 2D view of it). A voice over in either English or Italian will allow users to listen to it, ideally while walking through the fora themselves, just as you’d do with those recorder and headphone combos widely available in museums. If you forgot your headphones, or you’d simply rather read, you can select the reading option and disable the app’s sound, all directly from the section you’re visiting. The information provided is detailed enough to keep the history buff entertained, but without being boring to a more casual user. 
 
The 3D Feature
This is certainly the most attractive of the app’s features: reconstructions are fully navigable with an easy on screen command located at the bottom of the page, and do give a good idea of what the city may have looked like in the past. However, don’t expect movie-style quality: albeit well done and detailed the 3D reconstructions, especially those of Renaissance and neo-classical Rome, tend unfortunately to be slightly cartoonish in style. 
 
The charm and ultimate value of the whole experience is certain, though: this is an historically accurate app, developed through the careful study of both archaeological sources and archival documents not always easily accessible to the general public. Moreover, Imperial Fora is in continuous development, so we may expect more 3D scenario to be introduced soon. 
As of today, Imperial Fora is available only on iOS, but both Android and Windows versions are in the making.
 
So, is Imperial Fora worth its 4.99 euro (about 6 USD) price tag on the App Store? 
All in all, yes.
 
Complete and accurate enough for the historian, a good addition to the tech-savvy iPad and iPhone owner, an interesting way to explore one of Rome’s most famous sightseeing attractions: Imperial Fora is indeed a nice buy and, we hope, a bit of an investment, waiting for more 3D reconstructions to be added to those already available. 

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