The ancient Olympics in Greece may have been held more than 2,000 years ago, but it’s now possible to explore ancient Olympia through an immersive experience using a mobile app or using a PC or laptop. This is all thanks to a collaboration between Greece’s Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and Microsoft.
The project, called Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds, is a digital revival project “that aims to preserve and restore” the original home of the Olympic games using artificial intelligence (AI). It uses augmented reality to deliver a virtual re-creation of temples and competition areas as visitors walk through the ruins.
Visitors who travel to the Athens Olympic Museum in Greece can also take a virtual tour that makes use of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 mixed-reality headset, which overlays visual information on top of what the viewer actually sees to create an augmented reality experience.
“With the digital representation of the Panhellenic sanctuary of Ancient Olympia, its cultural heritage — but also the values of Olympism: peace, harmony, excellence, and noble rivalry — becomes accessible to the whole world through the use of state-of-the-art technology,” Lina Mendoni, Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture and Sports, said in a statement. “The digital preservation project, through the use of artificial intelligence and augmented reality technologies, implemented through the cultural sponsorship of Microsoft, promotes and highlights the unique and emblematic archaeological site of Ancient Olympia.”
Brad Smith, president and vice chairman of Microsoft, added that the project is “a stunning achievement in cultural heritage, bringing together humanity and cutting-edge technology to benefit the world and empower coming generations with new ways to explore our past.”
How It’s Possible
The first step in the project was for Microsoft to partner with the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. Next, through its AI for Cultural Heritage initiative, Microsoft partnered with Iconem, which specializes in digitizing historic sites, to create the foundational model of ancient Olympia.
Both on-the-ground cameras and drones were used to take hundreds of thousands of images of the sites. Microsoft’s AI then processed the images to create models that are photorealistic.
Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds digitally preserves 27 monuments, including the original Olympic Stadium, temples of Zeus and Hera, and the workshop of the renowned sculptor Phidias. In the 3D experience, these buildings are recreated in lifelike detail thanks to research completed by the Hellenic Ministry’s archaeologists.
“Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds is a unique way of experiencing Greece’s proud cultural heritage,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s prime minister, said. “Visitors around the world can virtually visit the ancient site of Olympia and experience history firsthand using augmented reality technology.”
A Unique Experience
The first immersive tour was held earlier this week at the Athens Olympic Museum. Seventh and eighth-grade students from a local school “pinched, zoomed, and rotated the monuments that had been brought to life on their smartphones, flipping between inside and outside views as they toured the site where athletes in antiquity competed in running, javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, horse racing, and other events,” an Associated Press story reports.
“The app is really impressive,” Panagiotis Christopoulos, one of the students, said in the story. “I think it can help with teaching in schools.”
Prime Minister Mitsotakis was also at the event. While watching the students, he told the Associated Press, “I’m absolutely thrilled that we’re able to present to the world a completely new cultural experience using technology to recreate the ancient world of Olympia.”
How You Can Take The Tour
The Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds Exhibition using the HoloLens 2 Virtual Tour is now open to the public at the Athens Olympic Museum.
The good news is that you don’t need to travel to Greece to take the tour. The web experience may be viewed here, while an app may be downloaded from the iOS and Android app stores so you can take the virtual tour using your smartphone.