What did they look like when they weren’t ruins?

A new museum of two ancient Roman villas under Palazzo Valentini answers that question using computer generated video projections.

Experiencing the archaeological site, which opens to the public on Saturday, is a bit like passing through a classically themed amusement park. Lasting roughly a half-hour, the computer-generated sound-and-light show offers plenty of opportunities to ooh and aah as the villas take physical form.

At one point a virtual wall dissolves to show what the residents of one villa might have seen when they strolled out from their door in the fourth century A.D.: a bustling city, the busiest in the ancient world, with more than a million residents vying for space, a narrating voice recounts.

I like the idea of it (although I could probably do without recreations of crowd scenes) because when you’re standing in a ruin it’s hard to imagine how it would have looked with painted walls and lavish furnishings. Filling in the blanks with a realistic projection seems a neat use of technology.

Pity they felt compelled to tart it up with hootin’ and hollerin’, but that’s what you get when you hire historical mini-series producers to make your stuff.

Click here for a video tour of the video tour (narrated in Italian).