Exploring from Home

With things the way they are in the world at the moment, it’s become difficult (to say the least) to explore not only Northumbria, but the wider world too: you just need to ask the Newcastle University Classics Society who were set to visit Rome in April! But all is not lost! Technology has improved so much recently, especially the items we keep in our pockets, that it is now a breeze to visit sites, both ancient and modern, and museums from the comfort of your own home!

Visiting Sites

Firstly, something that may not be new to everyone is really coming into its own in these circumstances: Google Street View! While perhaps not the most immersive of experiences in this list, it is certainly something worth exploring, winding through the back streets of Rome, and seeing the views of the monuments and across the Tiber. Plus, you’ll never get lost!

Another engaging experience is that offered by Prowalk Tours on YouTube. They have a large collection of guided walking tours that have been filmed, and give a great feeling of the buzz that surrounds many of the sites! They even have some 360-degree tours, where you can explore as the camera is moving (even better if you can pair this with a VR headset!).

For those looking to explore Rome in slightly more detail, FutureLearn has a free (yes, that’s right, free) course which explores the “the architecture and history of Rome, walking around a 3D digital model of the ancient city” with Dr Matthew Nicholls from the University of Reading. Find out more here.

Of course, we can’t leave out the Hellenists here, but why would we want to, when the Acropolis of Athens can be explored at your own pace at https://www.acropolisvirtualtour.gr/, even offering extra information. (Bonus points for the view of the Acropolis at sunset!)

A screenshot from https://www.acropolisvirtualtour.gr/

If there is a particular site that you want to visit, wherever in the world it may be, it’s always worth having a brief search online and seeing what resources there are.

Museums

For those disappointed not to see the Elgin marbles on their online explorations of the Parthenon (whether in global lockdown or not!), don’t worry! The British Museum has partnered with Google Arts and Culture (more on that later) to offer a virtual tour of the gallery, and it also has the whole of the rest of the museum thrown in too! It acts a lot like Google street view, and lets you explore with reasonable freedom and excellent detail. The Museum also offers an excellent “Museum of the World” online experience, with a lovely interface, and lets you explore the items while also seeing how they connect, forming a web of history: https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/.

Another one for those hoping to visit Rome, now, with the Vatican museum’s online tours and collections: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.html. The 360-degree tours of the Vatican includes the world-renowned Sistine Chapel and the Raphael rooms, thankfully free of the many visitors that it attracts each year, and without the huge queues to get in! You can also find an excellent set of 360-degree images to explore of St Peter’s Basilica here: https://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/vr_tour/index-en.html (again, bonus points for the view at night!)

A screenshot from the virtual view of St Peter’s Basilica, from: https://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/vr_tour/index-en.html

The Capitoline Museum is one of the many others that also offers a virtual tour. The Louvre doesn’t offer a fully virtual experience, but does have many of its exhibitions available to visit virtually, including “Founding Myths: From Hercules to Darth Vader”, here.

Google Arts and Culture’s exploration of di Cosimo

Another permutation of a virtual visit to a museum is the one offered by the Uffizi gallery. Having also partnered with Google Arts and Culture, from this link (https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/uffizi-gallery) one can explore the historic gallery in multiple ways. For the ‘purists’ of museum-goers, then the “Museum View” is a must, like the British Museum. If there is a particular exhibit that one is interested in, though, then you can explore the individual items in each collection too. There are two particularly nice features to this: one is the “Stories” section, that explores a particular work in detail, working through individual elements of a piece and giving information about it (one example of this that will be of particular interest to classicists is the “Story” of Piero di Cosimo’s ‘Perseus Freeing Andromeda’, inspired by Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses).

Another truly excellent feature can be accessed through the Google Arts and Culture App on your phone. On the app, if you click the ‘View in Augmented Reality’ icon, then it allows you to see the work (in astoundingly good detail, and real size) in your own home, through your phone’s camera. It really is a wonderful feature, and helpful for if you are planning on redecorating with some Botticelli or a Caravaggio! I’ve recently discovered that Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ is unlikely to fit above my bed (I’m not sad, just disappointed…).

Another truly excellent feature can be accessed through the Google Arts and Culture App on your phone. On the app, if you click the ‘View in Augmented Reality’ icon, then it allows you to see the work (in astoundingly good detail, and real size) in your own home, through your phone’s camera. It really is a wonderful feature, and helpful for if you are planning on redecorating with some Botticelli or a Caravaggio! I’ve recently discovered that Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ is unlikely to fit above my bed (I’m not sad, just disappointed…).

It is really worth exploring Google Arts and Culture, it provides free access to a huge range and variety of works from all over the world, and also has 360-degree videos of many places, including Palmyra (which has been rather dangerous to visit recently and Richmond, which we were lucky enough to visit in real life this year with Exploring Classical and Historical Northumbria.

Of course, this blog does not have the scope to reveal every single way of remotely visiting ancient sites and museums, but I whole-heartedly recommend having an explore online and discovering the many wonderful resources that are out there. This is, of course, a terrible time across the world, but I hope that one of the many good things to come out of it is the widening of access to cultural sites and pieces to those who can’t visit, and who knows how this technology will be used and improved in the future? A school trip on your phone, anyone…

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