by Irene Pompili*
Built in 1585 by the Cardinal Michele Bonelli, Palazzo Valentini was renovated during the 17th century and then completely reorganized for its new owner Roberto Imperiali, who devoted part of the space to the setting of an important and rich family library. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the Palace had many famous tenants, like the Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli, who transformed an area of the building into a private theatre and brought there musicians like Händel and Corelli. Palazzo Valentini later hosted the Imperiali public library first, even visited by Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and then the Prussian General Vincenzo Valentini’s residence, until it became the headquarters of the Provincial Council of Rome in 1873.
The remains of two big domus of the Imperial Age, that the palace was built on, were studied over the years by archaeologists, architects and art historians of the Provincial Administration. The excavations led to the identification of two domus, with elegant decorations and thermal baths, dating back to the mid and late Imperial Age. The names of the owners are unknown; however, the location of the buildings in the centre of Rome and the proximity to the Trajan’s Forum suggest a link to some members of the senators’ class or of the imperial court. The studies went on with the discovery and analysis of other remains, probably related to the templum Divi Traiani et Divae Plotinae.
These results offered challenging potential opportunities of preservation and valorisation from an audience development perspective. Thus, a restoration project was carried out between 2006 and 2010, with the introduction of IT technologies and with the contribution of Piero Angela, Italian journalist and TV presenter, and of specialists like Paco Lanciano, the creator of Welcome to Rome Project, and Gaetano Capasso, founder of the Capware company. In 2017, the 10th anniversary of the inauguration of the installation, which is now a permanent exhibition, was celebrated. Angela and Lanciano are also involved in a similar project, about Augustus and Caesar’s Forums, that is Viaggi nell’Antica Roma, another experiment in the field of ICT tools applied to education and dissemination in archaeology.
The experience of Domus Romanae di Palazzo Valentini is a perfect example of a multimedia project as it implies a simultaneous, integrated and synergic use of different media (texts, graphics, animations and sounds) in order to convey contents and messages. Visitors are allowed to really see and understand how buildings and objects used to look like at the time of the Imperial Age, through four main tools: virtual images, videos, lightings and storytelling. More precisely, people can walk on a glass floor under which the remains are visible and, at the same time, a video, accompanied by Piero Angela’s recorded explanations, is projected onto the walls all around them. The video shows the virtual reconstruction of the original appearance of the walls themselves, of the columns, mosaics and decorations, as well as of thermal baths’ system.
The lights play an important role too, as they help the visitors focus the attention on the objects and patterns of the decorations that are presented more in detail; moreover, they contribute to the creation of a fascinating atmosphere. The audience is also provided with some information, similarly supported by virtual reality technologies, of the structure, composition and organization of the urban environment that the two patrician domus belonged to, i.e. the Trajan’s Forum and Trajan’s Column. A storytelling approach is adopted by making specific reference to the lifestyle and habits of the inhabitants of the two domus: each part of the building comes back to life not only because it becomes virtually evident, under people’s eyes, but also because some characters start taking action and moving in it, through the words of the stories and anecdotes told.
The area of the Trajan’s Forum and Column which the two domus belong to has been since 2000 at the core of many initiatives of valorisation and promotion based on ICT solutions. One of the first projects was the website about the Trajan’s Column, published by Stoa Consortium, born in the context of the “Perseus Project Publication Model” and based on the new resources offered by the Perseus Digital Library. The website hosted a rich database of images, explanations and cartoons which was, for professional but also non-expert audiences, a precious tool to learn more about the Trajan’s Column.
Then, between September and November 2005, the event Immaginare Roma Antica. Expo mondiale di archeologia virtuale was held at Mercati di Traiano-Museo dei Fori Imperiali and it was the first international event about virtual archaeology in Rome; virtual theatres, immersive experiences and digital reconstructions were proposed. Moreover, 2010 was the year of an installation of graphic projections onto the surface of the Trajan’s Market; the title of the project was “…Antiche Presenze…” and the rationale behind it was to celebrate the timeless beauty and glory of Rome through the images of the most iconic and influential characters of the Roman Empire. In 2012 a 360-degree virtual tour of the Trajan’s Market was also created on the website of “Musei in Comune”.
In order to have a complete overview, it is important not to leave out the recent exhibition “Trajan. Building the Empire, creating Europe”, supported by multimedia and interactive tools; held at Mercati di Traiano-Museo dei Fori Imperiali from November 2017 to September 2018, it has been conceived in the occasion of the 1900 year-anniversary of Trajan’s death, the emperor remembered as the “optimus princeps”. Last but not least, in 2018 Generali Group presented a 3D version of the museum “Radici del Presente”, the archaeological collection owned by the Company, offering also a special point of view on the Trajan’s Column.
The innovative installation of Domus Romanae di Palazzo Valentini mainly aims to enhance the quality of the experience offered to the visitor, for the purposes of promotion, communication, education and dissemination. It is obviously interesting to make some research in an attempt to understand the actual success in terms of participation, involvement and engagement of the audience. Something can be guessed by analysing the data about Palazzo Valentini collected on social platforms and social media. On TripAdvisor, the overall score is 4,5/5 and 95% of reviewers are very satisfied about the visit; however, the presence and impact on other social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is limited: there are no official pages and the number of posts, with the location of Palazzo Valentini or where the hashtags #palazzovalentini or #domuspalazzovalentini are used, is not as high as it could be expected.
An evaluation of the quality of the project cannot be based only on the analysis of the engagement on social media but at least, starting from these simple observations, it is possible to get some clues about the communication plan of the initiative, about how people react and about what they appreciate the most. There are obviously some aspects it is crucial to reflect on, from an audience development perspective: to what extent are the initiatives based on Digital Innovation in the archaeological field actually effective? Which strategic purposes are they particularly impactful for? Which specific parameters and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) might be used in order to evaluate them? Which could be the characteristics of an adequate communication strategy? Answering these questions would be a starting point and an input to progressively determine which projects, tools and technological applications may support more directly organizations and institutions willing to preserve and promote the archaeological heritage.
*The present itinerary has been designed as part of the “Convenzione Singola di Tirocinio” project between Università Commerciale “Luigi Bocconi” and CNR-ISMA, during the Academic Year 2017/2018
VMAC – 2018