Previously, we had talked about the animated reconstructions of ancient cities. Well, this time around, we have decided to shift the focus on individual structures and buildings of ancient history, ranging from temples, villas to palaces – with the recreations being made by the concerted efforts of researchers, historians and animators. So without further ado, let us take a gander at ten animated reconstructions of ancient structures you should know about.
1) Solomon’s Temple (possibly 10th century BC) –
An almost 3,000-year old grand yet lost temple or a just a figment of religious fable? Solomon’s Temple or the First Jewish Temple has raised debates for centuries over its mere existence. According to Biblical traditions, the massive ancient religious structure mentioned with incredible details was the centerpiece of the so-called Jerusalem sanctuary and was erected on the humongous man-made plateau by around 960 BC (according to conventional sources). Taking the slightly more ‘sensational’ route, Solomon’s Temple was also the chosen building that supposedly housed the Ark of the Covenant. Unfortunately, archaeology has still not been able to reveal much about the presence of any such ancient monument. Moreover, in our current circumstances, political affairs play a big role – with the Temple Mount (the aforementioned man-made plateau) ‘also’ hosting what is considered as the oldest extant Islamic architectural specimen of the world – the Dome of the Rock (or Qubbat As-Sakhrah).
In any case, the ultimate purpose of this article is NOT to debate the existence (or lack thereof) of Solomon’s Temple. We rather wanted to demonstrate how the Temple of King Solomon might have looked like if it was actually constructed in accordance with the measurements mentioned in Biblical sources. In the video below, Daniel Smith has concocted a nifty 3D animation in SketchUp 2016 that demonstrates both the exterior and interior of the religious structure. All his virtual measurements were taken in accordance with the figures mentioned in 1 Kings 6-7.
2) Hanging Gardens of Babylon (circa 7th – 6th century BC) –
Myth, history, and magnificence – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon tread the fine line between all these avenues to emerge as one of Herodotus’ Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And while the name itself evokes a reverie of a colossal construction with lush greenery complemented by the kaleidoscopic bevy of flowers and herbs, unfortunately, there is very little archaeological evidence to support the presumed massive scale of these ‘hanging’ gardens from ancient Mesopotamia. In any case, the folks over at Lumion 3D have given a go at virtually reconstructing this nigh mythical monument from antiquity – and the results are quite breathtaking, to say the least (albeit with a few artistic licenses).
And in yet another twist to this tale from history, according to Dr. Stephanie Dalley, an honorary research fellow at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute, the Hanging Gardens of the ancient world were real. But the researcher asserts that the entire monumental scope with its enviable lushness was not even located in Babylon. Dalley made a comparative analysis of quite a few ancient cuneiform texts, and her conclusion is that the Hanging Gardens were constructed in the early 7th century BC, 300 miles north of Babylon, in the Assyrian royal city of Nineveh. Some of the translations allude to Sennacherib as the one who might have commanded the massive building project for his own palatial complex. Few texts with the Assyrian angle also mentioned the use of water-raising screws made of bronze that might have functioned in a similar manner to the renowned Archimedes Screw.
3) Second Temple of Jerusalem (circa late 6th century BC) –
There are very few historical ruins in the world that have held up their legacy so much so that they still play a significant role in the cultural consciousness of the people. The Second Temple of Jerusalem (or simply the Second Temple) undoubtedly belongs to this rare category of historical structures. And while the inconspicuous remnants of both this ancient temple complex and its possible predecessor – Solomon’s Temple (or First Temple), are confined to the perimeters of the present-day Temple Mount, the animation presented below virtually reconstructs the magnificent building in its Herodian iteration.
According to the Israel Archaeology YouTube channel, which is a part of the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority organization –
The Herodian version of the model shows visitors how excavators believe the Temple Mount site appeared prior to its destruction by Roman troops in the year 70 AD. The focus is on the southern portion of the enclosure, and includes reconstructions of Robinson’s Arch (an early overpass linking the top of the platform with the major city street below), the Hulda Street gates and passages onto the platform, the Royal Stoa, and the Second Temple. The reconstruction is based on the excavations at the Temple Mount under the direction of Ronny Reich and regional archeologist Gideon Avni.
4) Temple Complex of Philae (circa 4th century BC) –
Often thought of as the last active refuge of the native ancient Egyptian religion, the island temple complex of Philae (or Pilak, meaning ‘the end’ or ‘boundary’) was originally located near the massive First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt. Probably comprising two islands, the conglomerate site of Philae (1,500 by 490 ft) was mythically related to the burial place of god Osiris – thus making it an important pilgrimage center for both Egyptians and the Nubians. Building upon this ambit of reverence, the later Egyptians, Greeks (Ptolemaic dynasty), and even Romans furnished their fair share of architectural features – which collectively translated to the magnificent ancient Egyptian island temple complex of Philae.
It should be noted that presently the Philae complex is not situated in its original location, with the proximate areas being flooded by the Aswan Low Dam in 1902. Fortunately, by virtue of the ambitious 9-year long UNESCO Nubia Campaign project in 1970 (before the construction of Aswan High Dam), the temple complex was dismantled stone-by-stone and reassembled precisely in its current location – the nearby Agilkia Island that most resembles its ancient counterpart. However, going down the history lane, in the following animation, the resourceful folks over at Altair4 Multimedia have reconstructed the sheer scale and size of the original Philae, along with the vibrant recreation of the interior of the main Temple of Isis.
5) Villa of Augustus (circa 1st century BC) –
Tradition has it that the so-called ‘Villa of Augustus’, also known as the Dionysiac Villa in Somma Vesuviana, near Nola (an ancient Campanian town in Naples) was the place where Emperor Augustus breathed his last, circa 14 AD. Now while from the scholarly perspective this claim is debatable, there is no doubt about the archaeological eminence of the site. Now interestingly enough, a recent discovery has rather reinforced the architectural ambit of the Dionysiac Villa. To that end, researchers as part of a collaborative effort from Benincasa University in Naples and the University of Tokyo, have found a massive cistern within the complex that boasts almost 300 sq m (or 3,200 sq ft) in area, with its impressive 30 m length and 10 m width.
According to archaeologist Antonio De Simone, the cistern structure covered by dual walkways was built to salvage water from the nearby mountains. The collected water, in turn, was also used to supply the proximate farmland. Quite intriguingly, in spite of the mystery of its ownership, the villa itself was spared from the wrath of Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD (though there are samples of volcanic deposits within the complex). As a result, the villa was possibly being continuously used as a large farmhouse (aided by the functioning cistern) until it was finally destroyed by another baleful eruption of Vesuvius in 472 AD.
In any case, it is once more the folks over at Altair4 Multimedia who have virtually reconstructed the ‘Villa of Augustus’, based upon the extant remnants of the substantially large structure. And the end result is glorious to behold, standing as a testament to ancient Roman art and architecture.
6) Upper-Class House of Pompeii (circa 1st century AD) –
Researchers have been able to recreate an ancient Roman domus (house) inside Pompeii that existed before the natural disaster of 79 AD. Envisaged as a continuation of the Swedish Pompeii Project (now overseen by Sweden’s Lund University), the ‘authentic’ reconstruction project was led by archaeologists Anne-Marie Leander Touati – with the experts utilizing 3D scanning and even drone technologies.
The domus we see here belonged to one Caecilius Iucundus, a wealthy banker from Pompeii who lived almost 2,000 years ago. The house was located in the city block termed as Insula V1, which was thoroughly analyzed by 3D scanning and drones (conducted during fieldwork expeditions between 2011 and 2012). The site itself was chosen because of its ‘prime’ location at the crossing of two of Pompeii’s main thoroughfares. Suffice it to say, the neighborhood with its easy access to the city’s commercial facilities translates to the affluence of Iucundus and the opulence of his house.
Now while we fleetingly mentioned the authentic scope of this reconstruction, the accuracy of the project is confirmed when it comes to the decorative elements, given their preserved nature in Pompeii as evidenced by archaeological surveys. On the other hand, the actual architecture of the domus is obviously based on speculative factors, though bolstered by the known style and arrangements of spatial elements used during Roman times.
7) Domus Aurea (circa 64 AD) –
Beyond the ambit of military triumphs, the Romans were known for both their architectural and engineering prowess. And sometimes such scopes of expertise even reached obsessive and (we daresay) ‘decadent’ levels. The Domus Aurea (or Golden House) aptly harks back to this progress of Roman building skills in terms of excessive magnificence. Designed as a large landscaped portico villa, the expansive project (patronized by Emperor Nero) was started in 64 AD, after the Great Fire of Rome had destroyed many of the aristocratic and civic buildings – especially on the slopes of the Palatine Hill. Given such ‘extremes’ of circumstances and results, Altair4 Multimedia has given a go at reconstructing the entire monumental structure with the use of some fascinating 3D rendering techniques.
This animated video mainly deals with the magnificent external features of the Domus Aurea. The latter part of the video superimposes the Colosseum on the water body that flanked the ancient ‘villa’ on one side. This is because the massive amphitheater was rather built on a site that previously catered to Nero’s artificial lake by his Golden house.
The second animated video gives us a quick tour through the ritzy interiors of the Domus Aurea. And we move to the last part of the video, it curiously shows flower petals being showered from the rooftop. For more information on that interesting ‘feature’, please refer to the third point in the article below.
8) Colosseum (circa 70 – 80 AD) –
Blood, dust, sands, and glory – these are the words that come to mind when traversing the pop cultural landscape of the Colosseum. However from the architectural perspective, unlike other ancient theaters, the oval-shaped, freestanding amphitheater was a Roman invention. And, as the jewel in the crown of such imposing Roman-made architectural specimens, the Colosseum holds its head high with the towering elliptical tiers that rise to 180 ft (55 m) from the heart of the ‘eternal city’. From those very seats, the ‘bloodthirsty’ audience watched on the impeccably choreographed mock battles, exotic animal parades and their merciless slaughtering, and the gruesome gladiatorial fights.
But as far as history goes, there was more to this exalted arena, than just the collective ancient display of viciousness and pomp. To that end, being elliptical in plan, the Colosseum is 189 m (615 ft) long, and 156 m (510 ft) wide – which accounts for almost 500 m (1,640 ft) in circumference, with a base area of 6 acres (258,000 sq ft – the equivalent of more than four American football fields). The inner arena is similarly oval, with a length of 87 m (287 ft) and width of 55 m (180 ft); while being surrounded by a 5 m (16 ft) high wall on all sides – after which the seat tiers started. As we mentioned before, these tiers ultimately rose to a height of 180 ft (55 m) – thus making the total volume of the Italian amphitheater a whopping 1,320,000 cubic m or 47 million cubic ft. So, it comes as no surprise that during peak events, the Colosseum could account for more than 50,000 spectators.
To that end, the folks over at Colosseum Lives (check their website) have concocted a 3D video from the VR perspective (using Oculus Rift), and it aptly presents a grandiose scope of the Colosseum, accompanied by good commentary.
9) Hadrian’s Villa (circa 117 – 134 AD) –
Interestingly enough, one of the greatest architectural marvels of the ancient Roman empire in its apical stage (in 2nd century AD), was not actually constructed within the actual city of Rome. We are of course talking about Villa Adriana or Hadrian’s Villa, a grandiosely conceived scope that fused architecture, sculptures, landscaping and natural resources available in the local area. Situated in present-day Tivoli, the magnificent retreat is located 28 km (17.4 m) away from Rome, and it was originally constructed between 117 – 134 AD.
Now from the perspective of the sheer area encompassed by the Hadrian’s Villa complex, the term ‘villa’ doesn’t really do it justice. That is because by-and-large, Hadrian’s Villa was an imperial palace (for at least Emperor Hadrian from 128 AD till the end of his life in 138 AD) with Rome’s large court living on the expansive grounds all throughout the year. And other than just the ambit of the palace, Hadrian’s Villa flaunted an assortment of architectural and sculptural specimens that went beyond conventional spatial elements to morph into strikingly opulent displays, ranging from theaters, libraries, round pools, dining halls, baths to even a private ‘island’ of sorts that housed the emperor’s private studio. All of these translate to over 30 buildings inside a massive complex of around 250 acres, with the constructions proudly showcasing different architectural orders, including classical Greek and Egyptian styles.
The fabulously contrived animation below showcases these architectural elements (along with many others) of the Hadrian’s Villa in their crisp 3D rendered details. The video was created by The Digital Hadrian’s Villa Project, an endeavor undertaken by the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory.
And in case you want even more details on the Hadrian’s Villa, you can also take a gander at the video below (created by Khan Academy) that provides a virtual tour through the various parts of the Hadrian’s Villa compound, accompanied by commentary made by Dr. Bernard Frischer, the overseer of the Rome Reborn project.
10) Palace of Galerius (circa early 4th century AD) –
Thessaloniki, while being the second largest city of present-day Greece, is also considered as the cultural capital of the country. In part, this honorable status is fueled by the historical legacy of the urban center that was founded way back around 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedon, by uniting the conglomeration of around 27 big and small settlements. By the time of the Roman period, Thessaloniki was one of the rare free cities of the Republic, and the commercial hub was later transformed into the largest city of the Greek provinces during the Empire period. Following such a favorable administrative trend, in 3rd century AD, when the Roman Empire was divided into the tetrarchy, Galerius Maximianus Caesar finally made Thessaloniki his sole capital city. And thus came forth the founding of various architectural projects, including a palace, a new hippodrome, a triumphal arch and even an imposing mausoleum.
The impressive (and massive) Palace of Galerius was originally built along the north-south axis, and comprised of different structural elements, including the Rotonda, the aforementioned hippodrome, the Octagon and the famous Triumphant Arch (Kamara). As for the main palace itself, the imposing building boasted two separate floors, constructed around a central courtyard (atrium), thus essentially pertaining to a peristyle. The spatial scope consisted of richly decorated mosaic floors, statues and long corridors with huge volumes reserved for the emperor, palace guards, and courts. The eastern side further showcased its two-storied gallery interspersed with fountains.
The following animation was contrived by graphic designer Vladimir Nefidis. The 3D virtual reconstruction is based on the actual archaeological finds and aerial photography related to the Palace of Galerius.
Featured Image Credit: Virtual World Heritage Laboratory
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