MuPris: museum of sarcophagi at the catacombs of Priscilla

MuPris: museum of sarcophagi
at the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, Italy
MuPris is a museum situated in south-east of the basilica of St. Silvestro. The basilica was built in
the early twentieth century on the foundations of a structure built at different times during the Late
Antiquity. The south-east basilica was originally conceived as a space for burials and was used as
storage of archaeological materials, found during excavations of the last century. It is connected
through two entrances to underground tunnels of the catacomb. The basilica was already included in
the visit of the catacombs of Priscilla and with MuPris its role will be more relevant (Fig.1a-1b).
Fragments restoration
The archaeological investigations of the early 1900s led to the recovery of hundreds of fragments of
sarcophagi belonging to the basilica and the surrounding area. In 2009 the Pontifical Commission
for Sacred Archaeology (PCAS) decided to proceed with the restoration of marble fragments. In the
course of the cleaning they realized the opportunity to reconstruct a large number of fragments
reconstituting the unity of sculptures. The high number of fragments required an accurate
intervention of preservation and to be archived1. The high quality of materials and the variety of
typologies has led to the decision to create a permanent exhibition (Fig.2).
Digital Survey
The digital survey was a first step to create the digital version of the basilica of St. Silvestro. The
3D model obtained has been used both in architectural project that for virtual museum. The building
is simple in itself, but the rich collection of finds applied on the walls and the complex excavated
burials with their irregular ground, created the need to have an accurate and trustable survey.
This was performed using a 3D laser scanner. The good quality of the produced digital surfaces and
the immediate texturing, made this kind of models very near to an usable multimedia product (Fig.
Sarcophagus dated around III Century a.C. The piece is a robust challenge for the digital survey.
The complexity of the sculptures, the small size details and the difficulties linked to the laser
subsurface dispersion caused by marble defined an alternative survey method. For these reasons its
survey was done with a Structure From Motion process (SfM). The main vantages of this choice are
the reduction of the instrument costs and their practical management (Fig.4).
MuPris: Museo of Priscilla
Today the museum is inserted in the tour of the catacombs of Priscilla and collets 471 fragments of
sculptures dated between the beginning of the III Century and the end of the IV Century (http:// The goal of the project has been to enhance the environment and his graves rebuilding
The sculptures were restored and archived following the standard of the ICOM-CIDOC (International Committee for
Documentation of the International Council of Museum).
its historical identity through a permanent exhibition, where the fragments of sarcophagi can be
highlighted (Fig.5).
The archaeological context and the exhibition try to give to the visitors a different experience from
the usual museum of classical archaeology. The project has been thought as a museum-construction
site (Fig. 6)2: the visitor can explore the objects, the basilica, the burials, the stratigraphy of the
walls and the new structure of the floor from different views. The floor is built of Travertino
imperiale, glass modules and metal grids over the burials (Fig.7) and also leaving open spaces.
These choices should guarantee a good air flow and microclimatic preservation of the burials, while
giving access to the museum and to the tour of the catacombs.
Information accessibility
The museum was thought and developed using technology since the beginning. The technological
solutions aim at integrating the visit, allowing for each fragment to retrieve further information
directly in the museum using smartphones.
The choice has been to maintain the pieces in their original context of the basilica and to improve
the accessibility to this monument both physically, through an architectural project, and virtually
with a web-application. The study of the sarcophagi is a particular field of research in archaeology
not easily accessible everywhere and understandable for the common users. In particular the
numerous fragments do not allow the presentation of much information in the exhibition.
An easier description of each fragment, through the museum and the website, helps to understand
and follow the exhibition the common visitor. The user is be able to retrieve detailed information
connected to each fragment: using a QR-code (or with an url) connecting to a local server through a
WiFi network in the Basilica and though a 3D web application, using a software called ISEE3, that
allows also a virtual visit to understand the context of the whole basilica (Fig.8).
2D - 3D Web application
Despite the fast progress of the performance of mobile devices, performance is still constrained, and
3D visualization on mobile platforms is possible only using optimized native applications. This
requires an order of magnitude more effort, and will restrict even more the devices supported.
To allow as many users as possible to access the information a web application of the museum
using only image maps and simple javascript effects has been developed. The application is
available in the museum: QR-codes (or the corresponding urls) jump to specific areas of the
museum, but the whole museum can be navigated with a touch friendly and engaging interface,
even without using the QR-codes.
ISEE Software
To view the pieces in their original context of the basilica we thought to create a 3D webapplication based using ISEE Software4 (it means “I see”). It allows to present interactive 3D
environments and access information through the Web. ISEE software had been prototyped as
content management tool with Internet Explorer since 2008 and currently supports all the major
browsers. The basic idea is to enable information retrieval by simply looking inside a 3D
Source: Andrea Nobile
Pecchioli Laura, Carrozzino Marcello, Mohamed Fawzi, Bergamasco Massimo & Kolbe Thomas H. (2011). ISEE: information
access through the navigation of a 3D interactive Environment. In: Journal of Cultural Heritage, Elsevier Editor, 12-3 : 287:294
Pecchioli Laura & Mazzei Barbara (2010). S. Tecla e ISEE: un lavoro interdisciplinare alla ricerca di un linguaggio comune, in
Kermes, n.80, Nardini Ed., Florence, S. 69-75 ISBN: 978-88-404-4340-9
environment, since moving and looking in the real world are basic modes which all viewers use. It
ranks the relevant information by means of its position/orientation in 3D space as a viewer.
Normally we use the Unity 3D technology 5 to visualize and interactively navigate 3D models. The
virtual museum is available for all the major browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari) and platforms
(Windows, OsX), but does not support mobile devices (Fig.9).
The approach has been to give better access to the monument and his content through: an
architectural project and using 2D and 3D technology. An easier language to describe each section
will help the user to have information accessibility.
Our interdisciplinary collaboration is a contribution to try an innovative solution for the accessing
and managing the information in Cultural Heritage. Where the antique and the new met, unless
there were fundamental functionality issues, the priority has always been to preserve and enhance
the antique. The website gives already access to information on the site and on the
various fragments using the 2D interface.
The virtual museum will be online in July (Fig.9)
We wish to thank the following Project MuPris to everybody for their hard work and dedication:
Responsabile del progetto PCAS: Barbara Mazzei
Progettazione – Direzione Lavori – Sviluppo digitale: Laura Pecchioli
Calcolo strutturale (SPAC Engineering S.r.l.): Enzo Pietropaolo, Mauro Bedogni, Federico Rea
Monitoraggio microclima (Ars Mensurae S.r.l.): Stefano Ridolfi (Ars Mensurae), Ilaria Carocci, Federica
Realizzazione della pavimentazione (AGO.MEN. S.r.l.): Paolo Agostini (Capocantiere) - Costantin Mihaescu,
Negoita George Daniel, Oveslati Nabil Zamifir, Valentin Aurel
Fornitura del vetro (BTT S.r.l.): Maurizio Forcella
Fornitura Server Web ( S.r.l.): Samir Gomaa
Struttura pavimentazione e balaustre (Gigliotti S.r.l.): Salvatore Brancato, Angelo Gigliotti
Basamenti dell´allestimento (La Bottega dell’arte fabbrile): Riccardo Piaggesi
Progetto illuminotecnico (SystemTech S.r.l.): Rocco Argentiero, Paolo Tarì
Assistenza allo scavo, al restauro e all’allestimento (PCAS): Daniele Bertoldi, Sergio Caporali, Giuseppe
Carrozzi, Emiliano Davì, Sergio Di Fruscia, Claudio Donati, Giuseppe Pagliari, Orazio Putini, Roberto
Riccioni, Fernando Trionfera, Evelino Zinobile
Scavo archeologico: Marco Bruzzesi, Francesca Missi
Restauro materiali lapidei: Maria Antonietta Brancati, Maria Gigliola Patrizi, Vittoria Albini, Antonella
Basile, Lorenzo Budello, Saverio Ceravolo, Angela Nardi, Anna Ravi Pinto
Documentazione fotografica: Enrico Fontolan, Roberto Sigismondi
Rilievo e modellazione 3D (Area3D): Alessandro Peruzzi, Mirco Pucci
Esecuzione allestimento museale (Progetto Artiser s.n.c.): Valeria Bucci, Claudio Del Vico, Anna
Magistrelli, Marco Micheli, Andrea Pesce Delfino
Sito Web - Interazione QR code – Applicazione Web: Fawzi Mohamed, Laura Pecchioli
Si ringraziano per la consulenza e la collaborazione: Giulio Cocomello (Studio “E.” Roma S.r.l.), Massimo
Di Pirro, Luca Paglierani, Tiziano Ungherese, Giorgio Verdiani, Paul Yule.
Un ringraziamento particolare: S. E. R. Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, Mons. Giovanni Carrù, Prof. Fabrizio
Bisconti, D.ssa Raffaella Giuliani, Geom. Giuseppe Fiorenza, Rag. Giovanni Nuccetelli, Sig.ra Emanuela
Tesse, Sig. Piero Crescenzi