Article by SisterButta Resident : Photography by Bambi Foxdale
History can be a dry and tedious thing. In the hands of an inspired presenter, however, history becomes something else altogether. It breathes; draws us in; gives us a glimpse of the past. If we are especially lucky, bits of history may transform into pieces of our present: we find ourselves standing, walking (and sometimes fleeing in terror) in the shoes of distant kinsmen, fellow members of our shared human family.
Second Life’s Museum Island region presents some of the richest architectural and historical landmarks of the Mediterranean with great power and clarity. Designed and built by Carlolello Zapatero (artist and graphic designer Mr. Carmine Lillo in RL) over the span of several years it continues to evolve and captivate visitors at year’s end 2015.
Designed as an interactive geographic and time travel experience into history and Mediterranean culture, all the island’s spaces are used for cultural and educational purposes. Historians, school and university professors and students, architects, designers and artists are welcomed, as are more causal virtual tourists, models, and photographers. The region carries a Moderate rating, and visitors are asked to conduct themselves accordingly. Beyond those simple rules, all are free to explore the region at their own pace and in accordance with their own interests. Joining the no-cost Museum Island Society group brings notices of meetings, presentations, art shows and new building expositions. An email to firstname.lastname@example.org will begin the process of organizing a guided tour for groups.
What will you find when you visit?
When you first arrive on the island, you are standing in the shadow of the Colossus of Rhodes, facing the Arch of Constantine. Take a few moments to orient yourself. Consult the comprehensive display map showing the location of each structure. Read the welcoming signs. From there, travel either by walking or well-labeled teleport pads within the region to visit architectural wonders from across France, Iraq, Egypt, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Jordan, and Babylon of long ago. Every step of the way, you are surrounded by different cultures and vestiges of past civilizations of the Mediterranean basin.
The effect is a sense of wonder. These are not “interpretations” or “historically plausible” structures. Each structure is faithful to the correct proportions, shapes, dimensions, colors, and ornamental details that professional archaeologists, historians and architecture theorists presented in their original documents and published research. Carlolello Zapatero has done a masterful job translating scholarship into 3-D that invites a visitor to explore and learn.
Highlights from more than a dozen major structures include
— Hanging Gardens of Babylon —
One of the ancient world’s greatest engineering feats, the Gardens’ exact location has never been uncovered. The Kingdom of Babylon was around modern-day Iraq, and construction of the Hanging Gardens is usually attributed to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.). Unlike many other monuments of antiquity, the Gardens did not commemorate conquest. They were not dedicated to gods. Legends recount that Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens built for his wife Queen Amytis who missed the lush valleys of her home in northern Iran.
The complex of stairs, terraces and buildings that make up the Gardens called for sophisticated irrigation and architecture to support the weight. Twenty-two-foot thick walls, 10-foot wide hallways are described in construction accounts from antiquity. Reeds and baked bricks under a layer of lead created a foundation to hold moisture. Mounds of soil deep enough for the roots of mature trees were placed on top.
The result? By the 4th century B.C. The Gardens “topped” a list developed by the Greeks of seven must-see sights for travelers. By 140 B.C. the list had become standardized and known as “The Seven Wonders of the World.”
— Arch of Constantine —
Located in Rome between the Colosseum and the Forum, the Arch was built to celebrate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at Ponte Milvio or Milvian Bridge. Completed around 315-316 A.D. it incorporated aspects of earlier “arches of triumph” in its design and itself became a prototype for many markers of conquest that followed throughout Western European history.
Aside from serving as a memorial to Constantine’s military victory, many historians argue that the Arch marks the conversion of the Empire of Rome to Christianity. The story goes that on the night before battle Constantine was commanded in a dream to put a “heavenly divine symbol” on his soldiers’ shields. Constantine heeded the dream, placing a “P” with a superimposed “X” (Chi-Rho symbol) on the shields. These are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, and Constantine attributed his victory to the God of the Christians, and it was said to be the beginning of this conversion to Christianity. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, declaring Christianity to be a legal religion in 313 A.D. ending three centuries of persecution of the Christians.
Whether Constantine acted from piety or for political gain, the Arch of Constantine continues to stand and is the best preserved of several triumphal arches in Rome. Museum Island’s rendition captures every detail.
— St. Patrick’s Well (Pozzo di San Patrizio) —
Located on the “back side” of Museum Island, this recreation of a historic well located in Orvieto, Umbria in central Italy leads you deeper and deeper. By the time you reach the bottom you understand how the real life well got its name: according to medieval legends, “St. Patrick’s Purgatory” in Ireland gave access down to Purgatory, indicating something very deep. And it is – both in real life and Second life!
The real life well was built between 1527 and 1537 at the behest of Pope Clement VII who had taken refuge at Orvieto during the sack of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Clement feared the city’s water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege. It fell to architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger of Florence to accomplish the task of building the well, and the recreation conveys the full sense of the accomplishment. Both the virtual and real world wells contain 248 steps and 70 windows to provide illumination throughout the total depth of 52.15 meters (174.4 feet). When you reach the bottom of the Museum Island’s well, go into mouse-look and look up to appreciate both the virtual and the real world engineering and construction skill.
These three examples just give a hint at the wonders of Museum Island. Each structure on the island, whether it is a recreation of a typical Pompeian house, the brilliant Temple of Portonaccio, an Etruscan sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Minerva and the god Apollo, or Abu Simbel two massive rock temples in southern Egypt near the border with Sudan, each build makes history palpable and approachable and leaves visitors wanting to see and know more.
— The Nesting Instinct Writ Large —
While the truth of history can never be wholly glimpsed, Museum Island’s skillfully built 3-D representations give more than just an opportunity to be visually impressed, to marvel at engineering achievements, and to ponder the complexity and the aesthetics of ancient civilizations. As visitors explore the Island they can stop to read well-written text materials offered in both English and Italian that present some of the central facts surrounding the building of these structures and the goals of their builders. It is this combination of text with an experience of physicality in the 3-D structures that invites us to apply what we discover to the context of today, our own cultures and architectural icons.
None of us are likely to build either a real or virtual Hanging Garden of Babylon or a Roman aqueduct. Yet, because we can reach out and touch Museum Island’s 3-D representations of these and other icons of the past, perhaps we begin to identify an impetus behind their creation less obvious than “monumentality: the nesting instinct writ very large.
It is an instinct familiar to most of us. It’s what motivates at least in part many of Second Life’s creators and consumers. We build, collect, arrange, create display and photograph rooms, houses, shops, neighborhoods, towns, cities and whole worlds, real and imagined. On a grander scale, our human nesting instinct drives rulers, conquerors, and adventurers to create monuments to mark their achievements, their power, their claims on immortality. In Second Life, thanks to efforts like Museum Island we can experience the phenomenon, as we encounter some of the structures whose influence continues to shape the world we know today.
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Group Membership: Museum Island Friends
Region Owner: Xinoxi Han (English)
Museum Designer: Carlolello Zapatero (Italian and English)
Museum Curator: Morgan Darkrose (English, Italian, Spanish, French)