Interactive Historic Nicosia at the Leventis Municipal Museum
This entry describes the creation of an interactive platform for the three-dimensional representation of Nicosia’s historical core, hosted at the Leventis Municipal Museum (first version of the installation: 2018 ; second version: 2020). Nicosia, Cyprus, is the last divided capital in Europe (Calame and Charlesworth. 2009), and a city with a built environment that is characterized by a palimpsest of thousand years of human activity (Michaelides 2012). The Cypriot capital of Nicosia is a complex historic space where under the typical multiplicities of the present urban landscape lie both the political issue of its contemporary division and the memory of a shared past. The spatial experience of its historic core was effectively shaped during the centuries of Latin and Ottoman rule with the remnants from these periods still defining its urban landscape. This is exactly the historic environment visualized in the present platform which highlights key monuments and sites in their broader urban context. Occupying an auspicious location along the Pedieos river in the Mesaoria plain, the layered heritage of the capital of Cyprus mirrors the rich history of the island. With early traces of inhabitation dating almost 2.500 years BC, the city-state of Ledra that developed at the site was one of the twelve kingdoms of Cyprus. Following its decline under the Assyrians, it is believed to have remained a small yet active town through the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was the seat of a bishopric in the fourth century with the archaeological remains of basilica complexes reflecting aspects of the religious and cultural life of its inhabitants. The so-called Dark Ages, following the Arab raids of the seventh century, shifted the focus of economic life in the island from the coast to its interior thus helping the city grow. Nicosia emerges as the island’s capital following the re-establishment of Byzantine control across the island in 965. It flourished under the Lusignan dynasty that ruled Cyprus from 1192 through 1489 followed by almost a century of Venetian control until its capitulation to the Ottomans in 1570. It remained the capital of the island through the end of Ottoman rule in 1878 and under the British which administered Cyprus until 1960 and the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus. Nicosia’s old-city remains defined by its iconic walls built by the Venetians between 1567 and 1570. Designed by the famed engineer Guilio Savorgnan, Nicosia’s circular defensive enclosure is punctuated by a total of eleven heart-shape bastions and perforated by three gates. Within the walls, the city’s dense and labyrinthic fabric contains a rich mosaic of building styles dating from the Medieval, Ottoman, British and Modern periods. The Medieval and Ottoman fabric is ever present as it has shaped the walled-city’s spatial experience. Gothic cathedrals, Orthodox, Armenian and Maronite churches along with mosques mirror the cultural and ethnic diversity of its inhabitants. Busy squares, markets, public fountains, aqueducts and bathhouses provide glimpses into the public life of generations of Nicosians. In addition, houses, mansions and residential quarters featuring lush private gardens shed light into the private lives of local families. The impact of all these socio-political transformations on the urban fabric can only be revealed through dynamic means of representation, such as interactive visualisations. The interactive platform was created with the aim to bring together select list of monuments from both sides of the Buffer zone, to achieve higher public participation, as well as user engagement in the museum space through the integration of digital tools in the concept of the design of the exhibition (Sylaiou et al. 2009). The relevant literature claims that it is easier for museum visitors to understand the historical-educational content exhibited, when the interaction interface and information visualization method is conceptually similar to the technological tools they use in their daily life (Wigdor and Wixon 2011; Lewis 2014). For this reason, the exhibition about the evolution of the city of Nicosia as the capital of Cyprus from Byzantine times until today used a large touch screen combined with a video wall projection of the visual content at the exhibition space. The interactive platform offered to the visitors the opportunity to explore the chronological and spatial transformations of the city through the centuries, and the spatial consequences that the establishment of the city as a state capital brought to the urban space. Through this interactive visualisation, the users are able to orient themselves and navigate through the narrow medieval streets of the city, and to perceive not only the architecture and geometric, morphological and construction details of the city walls and the most important monuments surviving, but also the spatial relationships between them. Specifically the platform hosts the 30 monuments most relevant to the theme of the exhibition, including the city Cathedral, numerous churches, mosques, inns (caravansarai), public baths, fortification infrastructure and the medieval Gates, libraries, schools, public markets, city infrastructure, such as aqueducts, as well as prominent town houses and mansions. Both the fortification walls of the city and the monuments of the inner city are visualised through the 3D reconstruction of the morphology, structural condition and materiality in which they are found today through centuries of adaptation, maintenance, conservation, building additions or removals, and even change of use (Pilides 2009). These 3D visualisations of the monuments are supported by scholarly data and other information offered, e.g., old photographs, drawings and texts. The interactive platform visualises the monuments in their current configuration and condition in order to facilitate the engagement and association of the visitors with the history of the city, by aiming to allowing them recognize the monuments optically. This applies to both the inhabitants of the city, who may be familiar with some of the monuments and are visiting the Museum, as well as, tourists who will explore the physical space of the city after being introduced to these monuments through the platform at the exhibition. The platform relies on the visitors’ visual analysis as a cognitive process that is based on non-linguistic means of communication, i.e., perception, in order for the visitors to better interact with the information presented (Rebelo 2003). The authors recognise that today changes in education and society, which are the result of digital technologies’ integration in human everyday activities, are creating new requirements for the learning process (McManus 1992). Interactive platforms, such as the one that has was created for the Leventis Municipal Museum of Nicosia, can serve as a teaching tool for the public which simplifies complex information for all visitors, regardless of their educational background (Rancière 2004). The overarching goal of this project was to promote virtual reconstructions in the museum and the exploration of opportunities offered by digital technologies (Falk and Dierking 2000) in order to satisfy the demand for individualized educational processes and asynchronous acquisition of knowledge based on the skills of each individual. True to this, the platform installed at the museum is constantly used by visitors, as well as tourist groups and guides, who rely on it to narrate to visitors (adults and school pupils) the historical development of the divided city and the transformation of each monument through the many periods it has lived, from the Lusignan Kingdom to the Ottoman Empire. Regarding the technical aspects of the platform presented, all spatial and construction 3D data of the monuments were captured using photogrammetric techniques (Agisoft Metashape and Reality Capture) (Georgopoulos and Ioannides 2004) and advanced data post processing workflows (Bruno et al. 2010), including 3D modelling and texturing, data optimization in Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, Zbrush, Blender. The interactive platform was created using real time rendering engine software (Unity3D), in order to produce the designed interactive visualisation environment. As illustrated in the photographs, visitors and guides interact with the platform by means of a 50 inch touch screen of 4K resolution positioned in oblique stance in the entrance to the projection room, while a roof mounted FHD colour calibrated video projector casts the image to the front wall of the room to allow large groups of visitors follow together the guide’s storytelling and historical analysis. This configuration of interfaces has successfully served guided tours of the museum, especially of audiences of more then four visitors. Notably, the touch screen is large enough to enable the user to interact unconstructively with the platform interface and make securely the relevant selections on the screen, while the big screen projection is justified by the rich visual information of the interactive representation of the city and monuments, due to the accuracy of the city model and the realism of the 3D monuments captured by the photogrammetric techniques used for their reality capture and documentation – see images submitted. 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