The Appian Way, ancient Rome's "queen of roads," is about to enter the digital age as a revolutionary new app launches in two weeks.
The audio-only Verba Appia app is available for free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone both in the Italian and English version. Produced by Rome's archaeological superintendency, with Mondadori Electa publishing house, the app lets visitors leave geolocalized audio messages - similar to the graffiti left in the past - while being entertained with finely crafted audio dramas.
The aim is to get more visitors to the historic area while creating a social audio network that will be treated as a permanent cultural addition to the site.
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"Forget audio guides. This is a totally new way of interacting with the cultural heritage," Fabrizio Funtò, executive producer of Studio MCM, who conceived and developed the app, told Discovery News.
Rome's gateway to the east, the Appian Way, or Regina Viarum (the queen of all roads) was Europe's first super highway. Paved with blocks of lava or stone, it was originally created as a large military road in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius Caecus and stretched for some 350 miles to the Adriatic port of Brindisi.
The app focuses on the part of the Appian Way running from the Colosseum to the outermost suburbs of Rome over about 5.5 miles. A concentration of ruins of Roman villas, tombs, mausoleums, inscriptions, towers, catacombs and aqueducts make this area the world's largest archaeological site.
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"With Verba, the ancient road becomes a superhighway of communication. Visitors are taken into a universe of localized contents and stories," Funtò said.
Using the smartphone's GPS sensor, the app localizes the user's position and sends dedicated content.
"We are not talking of the usual information offered by audio guides, but rather mini audio dramas that will make visitors experience the best of this site," Rita Paris, the Italian state archaeological official responsible for the Appian Way, told Discovery News.
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Paris and her team carefully researched some 50 audio dramas. The plays feature special effects and original soundtracks and are hosted in Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.
Lined with cypresses and pines, the Appian Way becomes even more atmospheric as the ancient monuments start to "speak," revealing the stories of their occupants - from the Roman period, to the Middle Ages, to modern times.
There is Cecilia Metella, the daughter-in-law of Marcus Crassus, who shared the triumvirate with Pompey and Julius Caesar. There is Commodus, the "gladiator emperor" who trained in a miniature arena, and there is 13-year-old Tulliola, whose hovering ghost fuels the Appian legends.
More modern stories include the discovery of love letters contained within two lead tubes dated 1929, and hidden near the Doric tomb at the 4th mile of the Appian Way.
"So many stories, even modern ones, can be found along this road. For the inconsolable lover, the Appian Way must have inspired a sense of eternity to which he could entrust his passionate letters," Paris said.
An exclusive preview: click here and listen to the story of Tulliola
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In line with such spirit, the app lets visitors leave audio comments at each visited spot.
"It's a kind of social audio where everybody can post messages, just like on Facebook and Twitter," Funtò said.
The audio comments can be made public, shared with a group or kept completely private and can be heard only by those in the same geographical space. They will remain as "digital graffiti" to record the passage of visitors.
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"There is just one requirement to use the free app: you must visit the Appian Way at least once," Paris said.
Following the visit, people can virtually repeat their tour on a dedicated social site. There they can record new comments, participate in the story cloud and continue the conversation with other visitors.
"It's a totally new concept, and will be improved in the future with 3-D audio and other innovations," Funtò said.
"Verba Mystery: Venice" will be the next app of the series.