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An Educational Odyssey: Troy Goes Virtual Thanks to UC Architect

Hollywood’s May release of “Troy” will, no doubt, hype the romance to be found in the Homeric epic, the Illiad. But the compelling reality of Troy has been enough to grip University of Cincinnati researchers, one of whom will be building a digital Troy, funded by a just-received National Endowment for the Humanities grant for $182,000 outright with the possibility of receiving an additional $7,500 from the NEH if a matching $7,500 grant can be found.

Date: 4/5/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Liz Riorden

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From a distance, today’s Troy (in Turkey) appears as a mound projecting out of the surrounding plain where the Trojan wars were fought.  The lay person would definitely need a whole lot of imagination, Hollywood or Liz Riorden of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning to really “see” and navigate what the citadel would have looked liked throughout its history.

Riorden, assistant professor in the nation's top-ranked undergraduate architecture program,  worked at Troy throughout most of the 1990s, using her architecture expertise to plot and place, specifically, where Bronze Age palaces, temples, wells, plazas and fortifications once stood.  Using the digital modeling work she did at that time and subsequent work by Germany’s University of Tubingen, Riorden will soon begin building a Web site for school children devoted to visualizing the Troy that was.

“The work building digital models of Troy began in 1992, and by launching this work on the Internet, it will make Troy visible for our audience of K-12 students,” explained Riorden.  “We hope to launch the site in April 2007.”

The proposed site, Troy on the Internet, will seek to make the connection between the Troy of literature and the Troy of archaeology.  It will include narration, 3-D visualizations of what the ancient city likely looked like and how it was laid out, footage of archaeologists at work, Trojan legends and history as well as timelines that mark the city’s Stone Age, Bronze Age (period of the famed “Trojan War” in about 1200 B.C.), the days under the Roman empire when Troy was a big tourist attraction for Romans (about 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D.), and later eras.  The project is made possible due to Riordan’s expertise and that of the Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at UC.  

Various layers at the Troy site preserve archaeological remains that provide clues to the locale’s history, structures and daily life.  For instance, the layer known as Troy 6 is the one most frequently associated with a war between the Greeks and Trojans during the Bronze Age (about 3000 to 1000 B.C).  During this time, the city was well-fortified, with large towers, heavily protected gates and limestone walls.  Because of the sophisticated fortifications that have been found there, including defenses trenches, it would have been an extraordinarily difficult site to conquer, and it seems likely that any ancient war there – including that described in the Iliad – would have taken a long time.  The layer known as Troy 1 contains the smaller, simpler settlement extant at the city’s founding during the Stone Age.  In all, there’s believed to be nine major layers of Troy, representing continuing episodes of destruction and rebuilding on the same site. 

Troy was often destroyed and rebuilt, subject as it was to raids and wars, due to its important – and accessible – coastal position controlling the straits between the Aegean and the Black seas, thus allowing it to grow very rich from trade.  So, though we speak of one Trojan War, there were actually many.  It’s thought that the Trojan War of Homeric fame was probably due to a rivalry between the Greek Mycenaeans and the Hittite empire for control of this important geographic location.
With her effort, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Riorden is continuing UC’s connections to ancient Troy, which stretch back decades.  In the 1930s, UC archaeologist Carl Blegen led the second of the three major excavations that have dug at Troy.

Other UC faculty continuing the university’s legacy of research at Troy, often using advanced technology to increase our understanding of the strategic citadels that have stood at the site, include Brian Rose, professor of classics, and Jack Davis, professor of classics. Davis, Rose and Gisela Walberg, professor of classics, are all serving as UC advisors on Riorden’s digital Troy project.

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