2014 marks 2 000 years since the death of Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire. A unique new exhibition is using the anniversary to showcase Europe’s very latest in virtual museum technology.

It’s 2 000 years since the first Roman emperor, Augustus, died. Rome is honoring the occasion with a new exhibition about the empire, ‘Keys to Rome’, which opens on Augustus’ birthday, 23 September, and is showing in three other cities at the same time. Indeed, this is more than just another exhibition on the city and its ancient past. A European research network – made up of archaeologists, art historians, architects, computer scientists and communication experts – is using the event to showcase new virtual museum technologies. They will demonstrate how these technologies can be used to engage visitors in the future.



Members of V-MUST.NET, the Virtual Museum Transnational Network, are curating the ‘Keys to Rome’ exhibition, which is being held simultaneously in four different cities  representing ancient corners of the Roman Empire: Alexandria in Egypt (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Amsterdam (Allard Pierson Museum), Sarajevo (City Hall) and, of course, Rome (Imperial Fora Museum).

‘Organising the exhibition in four cities at the same time has been a big challenge, a bit of a risk really. It has never been done before,’ commented Sofia Pescarin, V-MUST.NET coordinator.

Roman collections from the 4 museums will be on display until May 2015 and shared through a stream of new apps and ‘immersive’ technology developed by the V-MUST.NET partners. In the exhibition, objects exhibited in the four cities are discovered through a digital itinerary using computer graphics movies, natural interaction installations, multimedia and mobile apps.

The journey is guided by two storytellers, an old merchant and his nephew, in the century following the end of the Roman Empire (6th century AD). Visitors are led to discover the secrets of their family through objects owned by their ancestors, using the ‘Keys to Rome’ to unlock stories hidden in the items. ‘The digital experience begins at this point,” said Sofia. ‘“Travelling in time”, they have to find those objects in the museum using a mobile application called Matrix, which connects the objects in the four museums in a sort of treasure hunt,’ she explained.



Visitors to any of the museums will be able to download Matrix, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in Darmstadt, Germany, into their smartphones for free and use it to choose a character to guide them around, find objects and access the four collections. The application will be made available on the Keys to Rome website.

Other tools include a wireless radio-frequency identification (RFID) system in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam through which visitors can personalize content. In Rome, a Walking Map gives them  the feeling of walking within the city now and 2,000 years ago. They can print out a sensor-laden 3D image of the famous Augustan Ara Pacis altar using another app, Virtex, touching the print-out to learn more about the altar. Another augmented reality app, Nisar, by French research institute INRIA permits visitors to see more details about an object by pointing their fingers at it. And then they can explore reconstructed 3D scenarios through Admotum, a Kinect-based game that also links to Holobox, a manipulator of holograms of objects. These last two applications were developed by the Italian research council, CNR ITABC.

As well as the 18 project partners, V-MUST.NET consists of 120 associate members, some of whom are outside Europe. It has set up a ‘Competence Center’ to market the technologies once the project ends.

V-MUST.NET is a European Network of Excellence on Virtual Museums, a four-year project funded with 4.45 million euros from the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. The project began on 1 February 2011 and finishes on 31 January 2015.


Virtual Museum Transnational Network
Project coordinator
Project Acronym