Virtual visit of Orange's Antique Theater

The Antique Theater of Orange, a UNESCO world heritage site, was virtually reconstituted as a 360 model that the visitors can now discover thanks to a virtual reality headset. After a free visit or an audioguided tour, the visitors will get back at the very heart of Roman Antiquity for a memorable immersive experience at the 1st century B.C., reliving the old city of Arausio’s founding and the theater’s building under the reign of the Emperor Augustus with its monumental decorum.

AN EXCEPTIONAL CULTURAL SITE

“The finest wall in my kingdom”. This was how Louis XIV described the imposing façade of the theatre, 103 meters long, 1.80 meters thick and 37 meters high. Located in the heart of the Rhône Valley, the Roman Theatre of Orange is without doubt one of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire. Exceptional evidence of Ancient Rome, it is the best-preserved theatre in Europe. A venue for shows in Roman times, it continues in this role today, to the delight of music lovers over the world.

It owes its fame in particular to its magnificent stage wall, amazingly well-preserved and unique in the Western world, decorated with the finest sculptures and frescos that the audience could admire during any representation. This stage wall was very important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural decor in the theatre. Its original height of 37 meters has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicolored marble, statues in niches, friezes and columns.

Today, the stage wall has lost all its colorful decorum. Due to barbaric invasions, plundering and reusing of the materials, the theater is nothing like it used to be and the visitor can hardly picture what it may have looked like in the first century BCCE. The historical reconstruction, based on scientific studies, is a great support of imagination. The visitor is thrown back in antique times and puts himself in a roman spectator’s shoes.

Beyond the entertaining and immersive experience, the 3D film is a way to discover a historically faithful reconstruction of the theater. Thanks to the scientific researches, the 3D model is quite perfectly accurate and similar to the theater’ first century version, in spite of the numerous destructions and changes that have occurred since then.
As an example, the stage wall stands with a central niche that used to house a statue of the Arts God, Apollo. The sculpture has been replaced later by an imperial statue of Augustus measuring 3.55 meters in height. In the 3D reconstruction, Apollo has found his way back on the stage wall to give its authentic signification to the whole decor.
At the top of the arches all around the exterior facade, there are two rows of 43 corbels which supported the velum, a large canvas canopy that protected spectators from the sun and the rain. Such an installation is hard to imagine. The film recreates the theater covered with the velum in order to reconstitute a typical roman show.

AN INNOVATIVE VIRTUAL VISIT

Proposed as a complement to the traditional tour of the Orange’s Antique Theater, the virtual reality experience is part of a novel approach: a travel through time based on innovative technologies.
After a free visit or an audioguided tour, the visitors watch the virtual reality immersive film, during approximately seven minutes. The projection takes place in a specially equipped room where visitors are invited to wear virtual reality headsets (an Oculus Rift) for an individual 360° watching. Taken to the first century BCE, they can witness the city’s creation, the building of the theater’s foundations and the first spectacular roman shows.

VIRTUAL REALITY AT THE SERVICE OF HERITAGE AND HISTORY

Digital technologies are a great tool for cultural outreach, and that is why they reach such an importance when it comes to the highlighting of heritage sites and monuments. Evolving as well with these technological advances at the service of History, the Antique Theater turned towards virtual reality. By giving life to this historical era, the time and space immersion totally transforms the way one approaches the monument. This technology turns into a new digital outreach tool, more intuitive and sensitive, and with great innovative teaching opportunities.
The immersive film presented at the Orange’s Antique Theater is a project of high scientific quality valorization. As antiquity historians have been studying the roman way of life for decades, it is now possible to create reconstitution images of what used to be a cultural, lively city. By proposing virtual images of the antique site’s past splendor, the virtual creations transcend their entertainment uses to reach a more teaching vocation.

AN EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE

The virtual reality device destined to enrich the tradition tour of the Antique Theater is also a way to live a truly emotional and sensitive experience. “Thanks to virtual reality, the visitor is able to enter a reconstituted monument on his own scale. He lives what the past men and women used to live. He admires the monuments in their original shape, before the damages of time and men, he understands the urbanistic and architectural choices of the builders. A virtual immersion is a memorable experience and it is an irreplaceable part of the cultural heritage highlighting” explains Philippe Fleury, a research-historian of the Virtual Reality Interdisciplinary Centre (CIREVE) in the University of Caen (France).

An intense immersion into a past environment, now disappeared, is a way for the visitor to access a whole new approach to the archaeological monument, as well to its founding, its evolution through time and its geographical situation. As a privileged guest into the virtual landscape that builds itself before his eyes, the spectator gets a new perspective of heritage, a fresh look at an antique construction. The monumental architecture of the Orange’s Antique Theater majestically stands and rises before their eyes in its actual size.
The illusion of reconstituted reality gives way to a sensitive dimension into the visit experience, allowing the visitors to live the monument’s building, not as a spectator but as an actor of history.

RENEWING THE TOURIST OFFER IN ORANGE

For Culturespaces and Art Graphique & Patrimoine, digital devices are an extraordinary way of cultural outreach. This project of immersive visit, on site since May 2018, is a renewal for the tourist offer that meets the expectations of 21st century audiences. Using digital, and especially virtual reality, seems like the best opportunity to reinforce the connections between the antique monument and its public. Indeed, the satisfaction rate has reached more than 90% among the visitors. Thanks to this novel device, the monument plans on reaching a largest audience, attracted by a modern and dynamic heritage approach, and therefore participate to the revitalization of Orange territories.

Extra media