Rome’s Catacombs in 3D

July 31, 2009 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio
3dcatacombs1Previously the vast scale of Rome’s catacombs – some 170km – had only been recorded with handmade maps. Now, a three-year project – the START-Projekte – has resulted in the first 3-D images of the extensive network using laser scanners.

A team of Austrian and Italian archaeologists, architects and computer scientists have started with the largest catacomb, Saint Domitilla, just outside Rome on the ancient Appian Way. Placed in hundreds of different locations, the scanners send out millions of light pulses that bounce off the hand-worked tuff surfaces. The light pulses are recorded on a computer as a series of white dots; gradually, every wall, ceiling, and floor is covered 3dcatacombs2and the computer pictures each room. “It is not a virtual image, it is not animation – what you are seeing is real data,” says Dr Norbert Zimmerman of the Institut für Kulturgeschichte der Antike in Vienna, project leader, who remarked on the beauty of being able to ‘travel’ through walls.

Despite their extensive reach only about 500m of the 170km of tunnels, underground chapels and tombs that criss-cross various districts of Rome, are currently open to the public.



– From The Roman Forum, the monthly print and web magazine covering news and views about Rome and Italy.

7 Responses to “Rome’s Catacombs in 3D”

  1. Angela

    Amazing! I would love to explore each and every nook and cranny.

  2. Gian Banchero

    These photos would look great blown-up and framed to put up on a wall, they’re art!!!…

  3. Stanley Crabb

    Thanks a lot for this informative article. Though I don’t understand exactly the images, I have been through several catacombs over the years, many times. My favorite place is the chapel of Santa Cecilia and her “dying” testimony with her fingers. But, this new science is really intriguing and will offer help in many areas of life. I guess they use the technology for needed bridge repairs, etc.??
    Thanks. You’ve done it again.

  4. mary jane cryan

    Fascinating new technology…what a leap through history! Can you imagine what it must have been likefor those men who dug out these catacombs?

  5. Thank you thank you thank you. This reminds me why I loved archaeology so much. Correction: why I LOVE archaeology so much.


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