What if you could not just travel, but travel back in time before COVID-19, before the Spanish Flu, and even before the Bubonic plague? To a time when some of civilization's greatest monuments were as pristine as the day of their ribbon-cutting ceremonies and when— even better—you'd be the only visitor, with nary a selfie stick or souvenir vendor in sight.
Well, I just completed such a trip—to Pompeii in 78 A.D., when it was a vibrant and thriving city, a year before the fateful eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Rather than stumbling over gray and crumbling ruins, neatly paved travertine tiles of the Forum stretched before me, framed by long rows of pristine white marble columns. Just outside a bakery, I could almost smell the fresh, round loaves of bread, hand stamped with the baker's mark. Further explorations with my savvy guide took me through a theater with toga-clad spectators, the gladiator's barracks, and the stately House of the Faun, with its Italian marble floors and walls, Corinthian columns, and reflecting pool.
This turn in a time machine was thanks to Ancient World, launched last year by the Australian-based company Lithodomos VR. Back in 2018, in a collaboration with Jerusalem's Tower of David Museum, the company gave visitors a unique part real, part virtual museum experience. On a walking tour of the Old City, the guide would have visitors pause at key vantage points like the Western Wall, Robinson's Arch, the Jewish Quarter, and the Cardo and slide on their virtual-reality headsets, instantaneously teleporting them back 2000 years.
When international travel stalled in 2020, Lithodomos pivoted their technological know-how to create Ancient World virtual tours, which can be used by anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Currently, the site offers 23 tours (ranging in price from $1.00 – $13.99).
The destinations are mostly from the classical world surrounding the Mediterranean (e.g. Athens, Barcelona, Rome, Split) but also available are Old Hobart Town in Tasmania and a Jack the Ripper tour of London. The furthest back you can set the time-travel dial is 5,000 years, to see the mysterious chalk earthwork monument on the Stonehenge site, well before the placement of the famous Sarsen and bluestones still standing today.
Lithodomos VR's founder, Simon Young, explains how they use archaeological and historical data to ensure that reconstructions are as accurate as possible: "Site plans, elevation drawings, and artists' impressions are loaded into a Geographical Information System which is then mapped to the real world. From this, highly detailed 3D models are produced by 3D artists under the watchful eye of the supervising archaeologist. When museums or archaeological parks are involved, local experts provide peer review for any necessary correction and refinement to ensure accuracy."
Ancient World tours make for an ideal virtual get-away from your desk, your bed, or even with the family around a Smart TV while sharing pizza and a bottle of Chianti Classico (for added Italian authenticity while exploring Ancient Rome).
And, when travel finally resumes, Ancient World tours can be downloaded and taken with you via phone, tablet, or soon-to-be-released virtual reality. You won't have to guess what that magnificent site looked like back in the day—you can see it for yourself right before your eyes.
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