“The Past is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past”: Virtual Archaeological Promenade

“The Past is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past”: Virtual Archaeological Promenade

Maria Pompeiana Iarossi (Politecnico di Milano, Italy) and Luisa Ferro (Politecnico di Milano, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0680-5.ch010


In the European ancient foundation city, the past forms a constitutive part of its structure. However, it is not easily recognizable in cities like Milan, where the ruins of monuments of imperial era (as the Theater, the Amphitheater and the Circus) have been submerged by the urban stratification. The recent success of visualization systems by web (such as GoogleMaps or Bing) have highlighted a widespread need for knowledge of places, which can be satisfied through an innovative application of tools as GIS. This chapter explains how, in the virtual space-time of a webGIS, it is possible to provide specific paths, that accompany any user, even if he doesn't have specific skills, to discover the immanent remote past of the city, described by an appropriate display of its cartographic and iconographic heritage.
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Why should we be interested in restoring the historical memory of a city hidden in the fog of the past, investing energy and resources? Who might be interested in the knowledge of the origins and the ancient history of Milan, a city that, unlike other in Italy, can be visited without finding visible traces of its remote history?

According to the ancients, no city was born in a random chosen place. And every place, on the contrary, had a specific individuality. Gods and spirits were residing there and it was important to understand what these places contained because some of them were to be avoided.

Milan, Mediolanum, “the place in the middle”, not in a geographic sense but rather religious. It was a great religious and political hub.

Cities are indispensable not only for their inhabitants but also for Mnemosyne (Memory) and the Muses, her daughters. The cities are full of ideas, novels, poetry, dance and theories which narrate the doing of the Muses. Their mother, Mnemosyne, needs the city because her daughters could thrive and be honoured with libraries, concert halls, theaters and museums.

So that we have gone to look for the soul of Milan, reveling its ancient history, rediscovering its ancient hidden perimeter. We have tried to evoke the city through fragments of monuments, stratifications as well as traces of walls, circus, imperial palace, temples, the remembrances of an important past (Ferro 2012, Caporusso, Donati, Masseroli, Tibiletti 2012).

The ancient city hidden under modern town is waiting to be rediscovered, not only through the work of archaeologists but also through the perception and the imagination of a virtual museum.

These considerations, which one may apply to every ancient formation city, take particular significance, however, if we refer to Milan, the city made of cities, city-archipelago complex and intricate in his paths, in a system of signs that intersects, denies, offering no apparent reason.

Urban studies and the very recent archaeological research have shown, from the beginning, the overlapping of countless urban systems, all total, which often overlapped in time and never really integrated”. (Torricelli 2002, 2007)

In this sense it is necessary, with the aim of contributing to the dissemination and universalization urban knowledge, build reading paths capable of revealing the ancient city.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cartographic Heritage: Complex of historical maps describing during the time a city or a land.

Museal Promenade: Open air museum crossing the body of the city. It is made of itineraries and sequences of “milestones” (archaeological and historic places).

Urban Stratification: A process through the cities evolve in the course of time, overlapping new building on the existing.

Urban Morphology: Science studying form, shape and structure of the cities.

Urban Iconographic Heritage: Complex of historical representations, describing during the time a city and its places.

GIS-Geographic Information System: Spatial organized database, to manage every kind of data, whose records correspond to graphic objects (shapes) on digitalized and global position located maps (layer).

Urban Survey: Complex of methodologies and techniques aimed at architectonically describing a city.

Milan: The most important city in the Northwestern Italy. With the name of Mediolanum (in the middle of the plain) was capital of Western Roman Empire since 286 to 402 AD.

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