ScienceShot: Hadrian’s Virtual Villa

Bernard Frischer 2013

ScienceShot: Hadrian's Virtual Villa

Archaeology is a destructive business. You have to dig up and haul away the physical material for analysis. But with advances in computing power and laser scanning, researchers can create a virtual reality version of the original site. A team of classical archaeologists has done just that for Hadrian's villa, a spectacular hilltop residence about 30 kilometers from Rome constructed 1900 years ago as a residence for the emperor. Today the ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the 1-square-kilometer site was once occupied by dozens of buildings, baths, artworks, and avenues, which researchers painstakingly rendered in 3D simulations over the past 5 years. The virtual world is populated by virtual residents, from senators to slaves. Besides the joy of visiting the ancient world, the reconstruction will be useful for researchers. For example, it has already made it possible to confirm a theory that the site's buildings were purposefully aligned so that sunrise and sunset during solstice and equinox created special sightlines, and two new celestial alignments have now been discovered. Visit the virtual villa yourself at

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