History buffs and virtual travelers have a new Internet time sink that is sure to kill hours at a time. Dassault Systèmes, a company that specializes in making unique 3-D virtual reality simulations is painstakingly recreating the city of Paris using their advanced computer modeling systems. But not content just to show the City of Lights in its current form, the company is recreating it at various stages throughout history, allowing us to explore how it evolved and grew over time.
The virtual city, which can be accessed by clicking here, traces the origins of Paris back to the Roman conquest in 52 B.C. Over the centuries it developed into one of the largest and most vibrant cities on the planet and all of that plays out here in this digital model, which lets you select from several different eras. Landmarks such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower pop into the landscape as time passes, giving us an unprecedented look at a living city that changed over the ages to meet the needs of its citizens.
Paris 3D can be explored from a web browser and requires the user to download a special plug-in to make it work. I had a few issues getting it to run on my Mac using Safari, so you may want to try another browser when giving this a go. There is also an iPad app available but it is a more constrained experience. Both versions are fascinating to play with and any fan of Paris will enjoy the opportunity to stroll its streets and explore the city’s history.
I recently had the good fortune to visit the Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland and saw that region’s amazing prehistoric archaeology. One of the most impressive monuments was the large vaulted burial chamber of Maeshowe. It was built around 2700 B.C., making it older than the pyramids at Giza, and is a masterpiece of stonework. Maeshowe is also famous for its much later (but still old) Viking graffiti.
Now Historic Scotland has made a virtual tour of this monument. Maeshowe was meticulously 3D-laser scanned to create this animation. The video takes place on the winter solstice, when the setting sun shines down the long, low entrance passage to illuminate the central chamber.
This video makes a good memento for me because when I visited, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that photography isn’t permitted inside Maeshowe. This video shows the tomb much more clearly than I could have ever captured on film anyway. So sit back, enjoy, and consider a trip to Orkney. It’s a magical place. Not only do you get stunning prehistoric monuments, but you can also enjoy the rugged scenery, abundant wildlife and lots of traditional Scottish music.
Even with all the technical developments like email, Skype and Twitter that help travelers stay in touch, the urge to send postcards never seems to go away. There’s something strangely thrilling about sending and receiving one of these decidedly analog pieces of cardboard by snail mail. The physical sense it has traveled vast distances across strange lands to reach you at the mailbox outside your front door.
It’s unlikely then that the postcard is going away any time soon. Instead, it seems to be evolving in form. The fine craftsmen at Wurlington Brothers Press are taking the stodgy old postcard to the next level with their “Build Your Own” series. Much like their 2-D brethren, Build Your Own cards begin as flat pieces of cardstock, featuring famous landmarks from New York and Chicago. But each card also features an added bonus, allowing the recipient to construct a miniature 3-D model of the structure using instructions.
The postcard is already a particulary sensory experience, a tiny remant of the sights of faraway places. Perhaps now the old postcard can add one more trick to its book, adding a sense of space, size and scale to a particularly low-tech medium. Now if we could only get that next email to show up in 3-D as well…
It’s no secret that I love a good photograph, so it’s not surprising that I find myself drawn to the amazing images of Alexandre Duret-Lutz. The Telegraph is currently featuring a gallery of his photographs of Paris — but unlike the usual two-dimensional shots of the Eiffel tower seen on Parisian post cards everywhere, Mr. Duret-Lutz’s images are three-dimensional: he takes up to 100 exposures, and then “stitches” them together using post-camera processing software to make mini “planets” — usually with one recognizable landmark in each shot.