Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.1, 53-60
Published Online January 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 53
Digital Media in Archaeological Areas, Virtual Reality,
Authenticity and Hyper-Tourist Gaze
Nicolò Costa1, Marxiano Melotti2
1University of Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
2University Niccolò Cusano, Rome, Italy
Received June 27th, 2011; revised October 2nd, 2011; accepted November 22nd, 2011
The increasingly widespread use of digital media and “virtual reality” in archaeological areas seems to
confirm the passage from the traditional tourist gaze to a new hyper-tourist gaze. Archaeological areas,
incessantly re-presented in virtual reality, are already part of an a-geographical city, characterized by new
kinds of flows. The “virtual reality” of archaeological areas helps to “mark” a new phase in the economic
and cultural history of tourism. A comparative presentation of some important activities carried out in
these areas and the forms of multimedia communication related to archaeological tourism illustrates this
trend. Notwithstanding the sceptical or conservative attitude of many institutions, this use of digital media
does not generate cultural perplexity in the general public, which instead seeks and rewards the most in-
novative initiatives that best combine entertainment and educational aspects.
Keywords: Archaeology; Authenticity; Digital Media; Edutainment; Museums; Tourism; Virtual Reality
This paper argues that the increasingly widespread use of
digital media and “virtual reality” in archaeological areas indi-
cates a new trend: passage from the tourist “gaze” (Urry, 1990)
to the hyper-tourist gaze. Archaeological areas, incessantly re-
presented, or even re-invented (Melotti, 2011), in virtual reality,
are part of an a-geographical city, connected by flows and mo-
bilities (Sheller & Urry, 2004; Hannam, Sheller, & Urry, 2006)
in which intensely polysensorial post-modern urbanism is ex-
perienced (Hunnigan, 1998; Costa, 2003; Costa & Martinotti,
We will show that the “virtual reality” of archaeological ar-
eas and heritage preservation (Guttentag, 2010; Bruno et al.,
2010; Guarnieri, Pirotti, & Vettore, 2010) helps to “mark” a
new phase in the economic and cultural history of tourism.
In the “logocentrism” of the Grand Tour, the journey was a
serious and committed reflection, and it was narrated on paper
by “journey literature”, consisting of diaries and novels. The
mid-19th century saw the development and success of photog-
raphy, which increased the sales of tour operators. The flâneur
was replaced by the sightseer of organized mass tourism (Adler,
1989). Hence, writing became more and more marginal with
respect to photographs. Tourist and gaze were one and the same:
no tourist was without a still or movie camera. This “oculocen-
tric” tourist (Wang, 2000) re-lived heritage places with all his
senses, within an experiential economy mediated by I & C (in-
formation and communication) technologies (Pine & Gilmore,
Today, in the relationships among visual culture, cultural
tourism and hospitality economy (Crouch & Lubben, 2003), the
virtual image is used not only as a tool of information, commu-
nication and tourist promotion of the museum or archaeological
area but also as a productive resource to invent new forms of
business in museums and archaeological areas. They become
containers of a new post-modern mix that transforms the cul-
tural place into a tremendously serious type of “play” that hy-
bridizes knowledge and scientific and humanistic skills in a
new synthesis. The fact that the virtual image has neither the
depth of authenticity (MacCannell, 1976) nor the extraordi-
nariness of the romantic gaze (Urry, 1990) is not a problem.
The tourist lives and seeks experiences that go beyond the tra-
ditional debate on authenticity or represented authenticity. The
new experiential tourist of archaeological areas enhanced by
digital media seeks “places in play”, according to the dictates of
the new culture of edutainment and emotions. This takes the
form of a true cultural revolution: the tourist does not seek a
“material” type of authenticity but is satisfied with the authen-
ticity of experience and sensation. Virtual reality must no
longer necessarily reconstruct spaces and environments, it must
create leisure and emotions. In new archaeological sites en-
hanced by digital media, it is sufficient to create a sensation of
However, this change of tourist demand is not matched by an
adequate change of supply. This paper argues that it is neces-
sary to adapt the latter by giving space to creative interventions
characterized by new transdisciplinary skills able to combine
education and entertainment, archaeology and digital media,
culture and marketplace.
Our analysis is based on an inductive method, which goes
from the detailed to the general, beginning with the compara-
tive presentation of some important cases related to activities
carried out in archaeological areas and museums (multimedia
installations, special effect shows, sensory trails) and to multi-
media communication in the same areas (guides and devices
that reconstruct the places as they once were).
A Complex Context
The use of innovative tools for the enhanced use of museums
and archaeological sites is extremely varied and reflects a plu-
rality of needs and cultural orientations that demonstrate the
essentially cultural difficulties with which archaeologists, ad-
ministrators and professionals cooperate and tackle the rela-
tionships with the marketplace and tourism. In short, we can
say that the new media are now widely used but in an extremely
disorderly and random manner responding neither to coordi-
nated policies nor to the set of best practices that several dec-
ades of experience should have consolidated by now. The best
use of museums and archaeological areas is entrusted to the
good sense, skills and often economic or political interests of
local administrators. In the absence of coordinated policies and
a shared theoretical framework, there is a tendency to follow
the latest fashions and to conform to the requirements of finan-
ciers. The number and quality of interventions appear to be
closely linked to the level of political and cultural metaboliza-
tion of the relationship between public and private.
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and
the Scandinavian states, have now metabolized the relationship
between public and private and have begun a serious scientific
reflection on the relationships between protection and enhanced
use, on enjoyment and education, and on the role of media and
technologies (Swain, 2007; Clack & Brittain, 2007). However,
this relationship still seems extremely problematic in other
countries, such as Italy, and the relationship between archae-
ology and the marketplace gives rise to lively debates with
alternate results. Where market demands are perceived as de-
grading or dangerous to the supposed historical dignity of the
patrimony, enhancement interventions tend to have an ex-
tremely conservative nature and the use of new technologies is
relegated to extraordinary interventions, which become more
socially acceptable if presented as “events”. To this is added the
extreme variability of the relationship between humanistic and
scientific cultures, which in some contexts tends still to be per-
ceived in dichotomous terms. The frequent distrust of human-
ists, and particularly of archaeologists, for the exact sciences
(often reciprocated by students of the latter) has hindered a
correct diffusion of methodologies of enjoyment and education
based on the new media. Virtual reality has long been consid-
ered a type of “play” or an unscientific form of entertainment or,
worse, a mere merchandising activity. On the one hand, this has
limited academic thinking in this field; on the other hand, it has
left the planning (and the fruits) of the first interventions to the
private sector, which has hindered the formation of new col-
laborative and creative interdisciplinary professional skills.
Moreover, we should not underestimate the low level of tech-
nological skills and resources that still characterizes almost all
European cultural heritage institutions (Missikoff, 2006).
For at least two decades, European policies have been ori-
ented toward a progressive integration of human and other sci-
ences and, in recent years, have also been affected by the dras-
tic decline of the former, partly due to funding cuts. This has
significantly contributed to bringing many sectors of academic
research closer together and relating them to the business world.
However, it should be specified that tourism, and particularly
archaeological tourism, has never been the object of specific
European research funding. This has helped marginalize tour-
ism in the ambit of large research projects. Thus, there has been
a progressive integration of the human sciences (including ar-
chaeology) and the exact sciences (such as informatics), which
has created the technical premises for new types of uses of
museums and archaeological sites. Nevertheless, the “tourism
sciences”, traditionally perceived as extraneous to both archae-
ology and informatics, have barely been touched by this process.
Hence, virtual reality and multimedia systems have developed
and spread in the absence of specific thinking about tourism or,
in a wider sense, about the final users. Digital media created in
academic or administrative circles were (and partly still are)
conceived as an “offer” and not as “consumption”; as an output
of the scientific communication of sites and museums and not
as an expression of the new recreational requirements of users.
In contrast, digital media produced outside of the academic
world were (and are) conceived as pure entertainment and as a
sophisticated form of merchandising. Above all, a reflection
from the point of view of the consumer has only recently begun
to take place: to put it in sociological and anthropological terms,
a reflection on the new society of edutainment and on the new
forms of relative authenticity.
This is the key point: notwithstanding the sceptical or con-
servative attitude of many institutions, the use of digital media
in museums and archaeological areas does not generate cultural
perplexity in the general public, which instead seeks and re-
wards the most innovative initiatives that best combine enter-
tainment and educational aspects. In other words, although
discussion on the concept of authenticity is still open in acade-
mia, the public, absorbed in the “liquidity” of post-modern
society (Bauman, 2000), has already metabolized the cultural
changes that scholars are still trying to place within a theoreti-
cal framework. The idea and practices of authenticity have been
profoundly modified by a series of factors: the increased shar-
ing at a global level of the same cultural reference systems; the
loss of borders and the gradual erosion of the identity of social
phenomena and cultural practices; the advanced digitalization
of society, which already contains generations of “digital na-
tives”; the loss of centrality of the historical and humanistic
culture in European and North American schools and universi-
ties. In a digital society (in which the use of digital, virtual and
multimedia systems and the creation of electronic contents are a
mass practice), the relationship between original and copy can
no longer be that of the old pre-digital society. The very con-
cept of reproduction is completely innovative: not only does the
copy seem like another original, there is no longer any sense in
raising the problem of the difference between copy and origi-
This implies a substantial change in tourism and cultural
heritage sectors. The use of digital media in museums and ar-
chaeological areas is no longer perceived as a “violation” of the
identity of the specimen or site, and the co-existence of authen-
tic specimens, virtual reconstructions and multimedia systems
is accepted. Indeed, for digital natives, it is a condition for un-
derstanding the context: in the absence of digital media, mu-
seums and archaeological areas are “undecipherable”.
Paradoxically, we are witnessing an increasing discrepancy
between the quality of the technological offer and the multime-
dia skills of the users. Throughout the 1990s, the various forms
of virtual reality and the use of multimedia systems were able
to amaze the public, helping to create an effect of “enchant-
ment”. However, in the new millennium, the public remains
increasingly dissatisfied with the technological quality of the
From this point of view, the frontier of technology and tech-
nological satisfaction lies not so much in the offer of the de-
vices and displays mounted in the sites and museums as in the
set of electronic systems (now fully interconnected) that pre-
4 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
pare and accompany the archaeological visit. These systems,
which relate the visit not only to the rest of the tourism experi-
ence but also to the total life experience of the users, include
internet sites, blogs, social networks, smartphones, geolocators,
satellite navigation devices, electronic booking systems, rapid
visualization systems, and the downloading and transfer of
images and other electronic multimedia contents. Therefore,
archaeological sites and museums are trying to adapt to the new
panorama of mass digital use, supplementing the traditional
offer of digital and multimedia displays with new interactive
systems related to the new digital use practices: creation of
discussion groups and forms of publicity on Facebook and
Twitter; digital and increasingly three-dimensional photographic
archives to be accessed online; interaction in situ and at a dis-
tance with smartphones. Large museums, like the Louvre or the
British Museum, compete in creating fast and visually attractive
web sites, which allow people to make virtual visits, to see
three-dimensional reconstructions or short films with explana-
tions, and obviously to buy merchandising.
A New Kind of Authenticity
An important element, which has significantly contributed to
the success of what we might call the new culture of relative
and relational authenticity or hyper-authenticity, is the new
relationship with history and, more generally, with the past. The
progressive loss of historical knowledge, related to a compres-
sion of teaching and a general simplification of humanistic
education, makes the relationship with the past much more fluid
and in some aspects more creative. A public with an increas-
ingly less precise and knowledge-based education tends to more
easily accept historical reconstructions aimed at offering emo-
tions rather than “authenticity”. This tendency should be seen
as part of a general process of “immaterialization” of the de-
mand, typical of the most advanced phase of the present con-
sumer and image-based society: the public seeks sensory and
emotional experiences and not necessarily content. Interest in
the past is basically of an emotional nature: hence, it is no
longer necessary to assure a material use of the past or to re-
produce it materially; it is enough to create atmospheres and
generate sensations.
Of course, this affects the use of sites and museums: a public
increasingly less demanding in terms of historical precision
prefers the proposal of emotional and sensory experiences.
From this perspective, the educational aspects tend to give way
to pure leisure aspects, justifying the worries of more conserva-
tive scholars. This has some immediate consequences on the
systems of uses of sites and museums: on the one hand, we see
initiatives such as living history and re-enactments, which
manage to satisfy the demands of the public with limited costs
and low technological levels; on the other hand, we see the
diffusion of displays aimed at creating sensations rather than
content via sounds, lights and projections. In a certain sense, we
are witnessing a kind of technological regression of the offer,
which tends not only to resemble the proposals of now distant
phases of the history of modern tourism, such as the culture of
“sound and light” shows of the mass tourism of the 1960s but
also to re-propose the romantic and emotional approach of the
Grand Tour of the early 19th century. However, all this occurs
within the context of the new cultural tourism (Costa, 2005b;
Melotti, 2011): a type of mass tourism, but carried out for small
unorganized groups; not cerebral and not necessarily strong on
content, yet demanding and sophisticated; concentrated on the
traditional large destinations, but increasingly attentive to the
innovative proposals of small centres; still considered a “sepa-
rate” activity and represented as a “slow” practice, yet increas-
ingly conducted in rapid, “distracted” and sometimes even un-
intentional forms combined with other not necessarily tourist
practices; fully included in the culture of globalization and in
the mechanisms of consumerism, but attentive to local identi-
ties; fascinated by history, yet also enchanted by shopping.
The Challenge of Digital Med ia: Some Examples
A number of cases help us to clarify the complexity, vivacity
and inconsistency of the aforesaid tendencies. Pompeii is one of
the most important and best known sites in which the tradi-
tional practices of archaeological mass tourism are mixed with
the new forms of contemporary cultural tourism. With its 2.5
million visitors per year, Pompeii is one of the most visited
archaeological sites in Italy and Europe, yet the number of
visitors is lower than that of many amusement parks and shop-
ping malls. Nevertheless, the administrators, who have trouble
efficiently managing the site and complain about the poor sus-
tainability of its tourism, seem satisfied. Despite the fundamen-
tally traditional nature of its tourism offer, Pompeii remains a
symbolic site for the entire country. Therefore, its administra-
tors feel duty-bound to experiment (albeit without coordination
or adequate studies) with innovative orientations that could
provide an image of “modernity”, while universities, research
centres and private companies tend to exploit its world-famous
image to obtain financing and sponsorships.
With regard to digital media, we should mention “Lifeplus”
(2002-2004), an innovative project funded by the European
Union as part of the IST program (Melotti, 2003). The aim of
“Lifeplus” was to reconstruct, via augmented reality, spaces,
buildings and scenes of daily life in ancient Pompeii to be seen
in situ and in real time during the visit to the archaeological
area. This project anticipated by several years the interest in
less archaeological aspects of the visit and the tendency to
spectacularize it with “events” and sensory activities. However,
the state and local administrations failed to understand its in-
novative nature and did not proceed to its industrial and tourist
Indeed, because of its “complexity”, augmented reality has
not been a success in archaeological sites and is now used es-
sentially in museums. Relevant in this regard is the Hellenic
Cosmos Interactive Museum of Athens (established in 1998),
where, in the name of edutainment, high-quality virtual reality
installations “recount” famous episodes of ancient history, such
as the Battle of Thermopylae (presented in 2009).
Pompeii discovered the new sensory culture more recently.
In 2009, in the middle of a financial and administrative crisis, it
provided visitors with a “sensory platform” on which they
could experience the impression of an earthquake and, accord-
ing to its creators, relive the most dramatic moments of the
catastrophe that destroyed the city. In this case, the technology
did not serve to bring added value to the visit but simply to give
a mental image of death and destruction that has historically
underlain tourism at Pompeii. With the same logic, the admin-
istrators inaugurated adults-only night-time visits to the subur-
ban thermal baths, famous for their erotic frescoes. Thus, digital
media are used at Pompeii in a leisure form that seems to fol-
low the sensory tendency of contemporary tourism, even if it
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 55
resembles the traditional voyeuristic components that have long
characterized tourism at the site.
The media visibility of Pompeii and its tourism success has
naturally led to a proliferation of digital media for commercial
uses: virtual reconstructions, computer games, audio-guides, etc.
Without doubt, the most interesting initiative is the digitaliza-
tion of Pompeii’s roads by Google. This application is not only
a significant step toward virtual archaeological tourism, carried
out entirely at a distance, but also constitutes a small cultural
revolution that restores Pompeii’s specificity as a “city” to the
archaeological site.
The situation is also very varied in terms of multimedia dis-
plays. With great foresight, Paestum established a small multi-
media archaeological museum, the Narrative Museum of Hera
Argiva (inaugurated in 2001), which does not display speci-
mens but “recounts” the myths of the ancient city with voices
and projections. The use of multimedia is an effective tool to
make the most of the immaterial aspects of a culture, such as its
myths. Also in this case, however, the unrealistic aspirations of
the project must be underlined: the museum, not well publi-
cized and poorly connected with the archaeological site, wel-
comes its few visitors with non-functioning projectors and de-
fective loudspeakers. Virtual reality, when it only follows a
political logic and is not included in a serious project for the use
of the territory, remains too virtual.
In contrast, the multimedia display of the Roman villas dis-
covered and turned into a museum in the underground areas of
Rome’s Palazzo Valentini (2009) can be listed among best
practices. Sounds and evocative noises, interplays of light and
shadow, projections of images and virtual reconstructions su-
perimposed on the remains, and the narrating voice of a famous
television scientific journalist all create a visit that satisfies
from both the sensory and educational points of view. The suc-
cess of the Palazzo Valentini museum is partly due to it being
“underground” and thus spontaneously associated with a di-
mension of “alterity” and mystery, in conformity with the emo-
tional characteristics of the new cultural tourism. Yet, it also
depends on the high technical quality of the installation and the
unusual attention to the quality of the content and language.
This demonstrates that it is possible to propose quality edu-
tainment activities and that an adequately informed public is
able to appreciate not only the leisure aspects of edutainment
but also the educational aspects.
Displays of this type have the advantage of arousing interest
in spaces that, by themselves, have low archaeological appeal
and are not easily understood by non-specialists. In London,
laser lighting creating human outlines and background noises
that suggest the presence of an unruly public enhance the un-
derground remains of a Roman amphitheatre, which otherwise
would not merit a visit. The same occurs in Milan, where the
few metres of wall of a Roman theatre present in a cellar could
become the object of tourist visits thanks to sounds, multimedia
projections and olfactory plates, which, according to the crea-
tors, release fragrances and odours that would have been per-
ceived in an ancient theatre. The use of fragrances is perhaps
the most cutting-edge of the technologies applied to visits to
archaeological sites and museums. On the one hand, it responds
to the “slow” demands of the new cultural tourism, which seeks
immaterial and sensory experiences; on the other hand, it is
completely in line with the boldest proposals of the new sen-
sory marketing.
The last decade has been characterized by the gradual diffu-
sion of innovative multimedia displays involving the combined
use of virtual reconstructions, films and sound effects. These
“new” museums that use new media in a creative way and do
not hesitate to interconnect different forms of authenticity in-
clude the Civitella National Archaeological Museum of Chieti
in Italy (inaugurated in 2000) and the Römer Museum of the
Xanten Archaeological Park in Germany (inaugurated in 2008).
These are marvellous museums, in new structures, which com-
bine elegance of design with functionality of custom-designed
exhibition spaces. They mark a new approach to museum edu-
cation, with simple and effective displays designed to teach and
amuse with both seriousness and lightness. The witticism of the
Chieti museum, “the theatre becomes museum and the museum
theatre”, is emblematic of an orientation that, with the help of
the new media, combines communication and spectaculariza-
tion. Yet, this museum is an exception in Italy, where innova-
tive interventions and the use of digital media are usually re-
served for “events” able to benefit private financiers interested
in a public success.
Nevertheless, we can also mention some excellent interven-
tions in small local archaeological museums, whose limited size
reduces the cost of multimedia displays and whose marginal
geographical position requires quality interventions in order to
attract visitors. This is the case, for instance, of the Lavinium
Archaeological Museum of Pomezia, near Rome (inaugurated
in 2005), where narrative multimedia installations, starting with
the myth of Ulysses, recount the history of the territory in a
very suggestive manner. This small treasure, designed by a
young female architect, shows the creative potential of a gen-
eration of professionals who should be actively encouraged.
A separate discussion is reserved for museums lacking ar-
chaeological specimens and based entirely on the use of digital
media. In addition to the aforesaid Hellenic Cosmos museum of
Athens, distinguished by its research activities and production
of virtual contents, we can mention the Virtual Archaeological
Museum (MAV) of Herculaneum (inaugurated in 2008), in
which ambition and innovation appear to be balanced. In line
with current trends, this museum hosts all kinds of activities,
from contemporary art exhibitions to a media library. Its main
part is dedicated to ancient history, with virtual and multimedia
reconstructions of life in Vesuvian towns. The visit, as ex-
plained on the museum’s web site, “is like a plunge into his-
tory”, in which “the visitor has the chance to experience a
multi-sensory and emotional journey”. The visit includes “a
passage through a virtual blazing cloud” and an oleographic
reconstruction of “an ancient treasure chest of fabulous jewels”.
This kind of archaeological tourism, reminiscent of Indiana
Jones, is made up of adventures and treasures. This is edutain-
ment culture in full swing and its organizers seem to fear that
the word “museum” might put visitors off: “Unlike a traditional
museum, visitors do not come into contact with real finds,
crystallized and static, but follow a dynamic and evocative
pathway through virtual reconstructions and visual interfaces
which reproduce and document the realities of the past in their
original form”. Intrinsically virtual on account of its hypotheti-
cal nature, the concept of “original form” shows the affinity
between scientific research, which aims at returning to an in-
terpretation favouring hypothetical and archaeological authen-
ticity, and the cultural, and not merely touristic, need to have
so-called authentic experiences. The MAV goes one step fur-
ther, however, and in an attempt to capture much of contempo-
rary culture’s latent need for transcendence, passes from virtu-
6 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ality to mysticism. Because “it is necessary to immerse oneself
in the right atmosphere”, “a kind of ancestral portal is an intro-
duction to the journey and frees our bodies in streams of con-
nective intellige nc e”.
The exhibition “Teotihuacan, city of the gods” (held in Rome
between 2010 and 2011) is a good example of the most recent
uses of digital media: virtual reality is almost obsolete; the use
of multimedia is reduced to projections of simple but extremely
suggestive images, which create colourful backgrounds of strong
emotional impact. For instance, in the room dedicated to human
sacrifice, a projection system makes red drops of blood fall on
the floor. Virtual reality and technology are no longer used to
reconstruct finds or buildings, but to directly create an emo-
tional “atmosphere” and to give concrete visual substance to the
collective image of a given culture.
The same principle marked “Coliseum on Fire”, a 2010 video
instal lation by Thyr a Hiden and Pio Diaz, whic h, by clever use
of light, created a mock fire inside the amphitheatre, recalling
the fire, attributed to Nero, that destroyed Rome (even though
the Coliseum was built many years later). Light shaped a col-
lective image of ancient Rome, fashioned by sword-and-sandal
movies and imbued with the voyeuristic culture of catastrophe,
demanding blood and fire. According to the then Italian Minis-
try of Culture, this was to induce “a reflection on the fragility
and the transience of man-made buildings”, but actually it leads
to a reflection on the fluidity of the value and identity of
monuments in contemporary society.
The ever more numerous interventions of spectacularization
of archaeological areas include the work begun by the famous
light-designer Piero Castiglioni in the Roman Forum (in 2010).
As proudly stated on the Municipality of Rome’s web site, forty
“Italian-made” projectors give “plastic attention” to the Fo-
rum’s most important ruins with an “eco-compatible system of
low energy consumption and low environmental impact”. This
installation synthesizes the latest tendencies in this sector: the
archaeological area is increasingly considered the key site of a
city’s space, able to enhance the urban context and thereby
deserving of beautification interventions. The user does not
stop at visiting the archaeological area but seeks the emotions
aroused by the night-time visit and plays of light. The interven-
tions not only spectacularize the area but become forms of
spectacle per se, being entrusted to “archista rs” and fashiona ble
It should be underlined that these types of interventions re-
quire a low level of technology and can be realized with rather
limited costs with respect to their strong publicity and atten-
dance benefits. In this regard, the emblematic case that sig-
nalled a revolution was the intervention of the Oscar winner
Dante Ferretti in Turin’s Egyptian Museum. Without any modi-
fication of the collection, a simple but striking light design,
aimed at emphasizing the more mysterious aspects of Egyptian
culture, increased the number of visitors from 300,000 to
The success of these interventions is making them “fashion-
able” as tools of urban marketing. However, they risk remain-
ing unrealistically ambitious activities that have difficulty being
included in the policies of the territory. This is the case, for
instance, of the Temple of Jupiter Axur at Terracina in Latium,
where in 2007 the Municipality promoted a project of “techno-
logical spectacularization” entrusted to Carlo Rambaldi, past
Oscar winner for special effects. The project, involving elec-
tronic guides with avatars and laser lighting of the monument,
intelligently embodied the new video and movie-oriented trends
of sensory cultural tourism but remained bogged down in the
swamp of bureaucracy.
These difficulties in the public sector contrast with the effi-
ciency shown by the private sector. In 2006, singer-songwriter
Luciano Ligabue recorded a successful video-clip on the terrace
of the Temple of Jupiter: a music video that helped popularize
the image of this archaeological area in a much more effective
way than any possible intervention of spectacularization feasi-
ble in situ.
There are also interventions of spectacularization of more
traditional archaeological areas. An extremely interesting ex-
ample is the site of Teotihuacan, one of the most important
archaeological areas in Mexico. In 2009, the government tried
to introduce a “sound and light” show called “Resplandor Teo-
tihuacano”, installing rows of tiny Philips lights on the pyra-
mids and all along the Avenue of the Dead. This kind of inter-
vention was a traditional one with no use of sophisticated digi-
tal media. Scholars questioned the intervention, which appar-
ently damaged the archaeological monuments, even though the
lights were (officially) installed in the parts of the monuments
rebuilt during early 20th century restoration work. But the most
interesting aspect was the battle against electrification waged
by the local community, which defended a supposed local iden-
tity and local authenticity against political centralism and cul-
tural globalization of archaeological tourism. The intervention
of a UNO-related body led to the removal of the lights. particu-
lar case of post-modern spectacularization is the site of New-
grange in Ireland. Every year, between December 19th - 23rd,
the first rays of the sun shine directly along the passage through
a small opening above the entrance and briefly illuminate the
burial chamber. In these five days thousands of visitors are
drawn to Newgrange by the combined effect of this evocative
phenomenon, blown up by the media which inevitably harp on
its magical and mysterious aspects, and the irresistible force
that “events” exert in a consumer society, especially if they are
brief and marketed as exclusive. There is a waiting list for the
occasion but it is impossible to satisfy the enormous number of
requests. To satisfy the growing demand, the site’s organizers,
with considerable imagination and pragmatism, have held a
lottery since 2000 to facilitate what is advertised as a “dramatic
event”. Those who ask to be put on the Newgrange waiting list
do not necessarily wish to visit the archaeological site but crave
the emotional experience of the event that this site provides on
those special days. The archaeological context is secondary and
simply a setting. The immaterial reinvention of Newgrange
goes well beyond the lottery. The sun shining into the tomb is
no longer a mere tourist event or a phenomenon of mere ar-
chaeological interest; it has almost become a national event,
characterized, like a true feast, by an annual recurrence. The
event is often broadcast live on television and, with global out-
reach, on the internet. So that no one is disappointed, an elec-
trical device makes it possible to create the effect of the solsti-
tial illumination at any moment: at the end of the visit, the
guide turns off the main lights and the system recreates the
effect. The latest frontier of tourism of light is not so much the
illumination of monuments as the emotional reconstruction of
the non-material heritage of humanity.
New Skills for a New Tourism
Archaeological tourist attractions are characterized by a mix
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 57
of traditional live shows, sounds and lights, and special effects
borrowed from cinema. Moreover, digital technologies allow
the tourist to visit the site even before leaving home or to see it
as it once was, reconstructed in an entrance hall or at the exit of
the archaeological area, or to visit structures re-invented in the
vicinity of the site.
Common to the “new” archaeological areas is the “re-con-
struction” of the place via an increasing use of digital media
that “create” a new tourist virtual experience (Melotti, 2008).
New narrations are invented from nothing via images that re-
count the cultural heritage with “additions” or replace it “com-
pletely” with a reality that never existed before. In this contin-
uum, the identification with strong bonds, like national pride,
becomes progressively weaker because the “play” oriented to
the business of tourists prevails over the “duty” to remember
the traces of ancestors we conserve for ourselves. There is a
connection between the neo-realism and fluid interactivity of
the videogame technologies and the 3D-virtual reality: the pa-
per of Bruno et al. (2010) illustrates a complete methodology to
create a virtual exhibition system, based on realistic high-qual-
ity 3D called MNEME, which allows the use to interact in a
free and easy way with a rich collection of archaeological finds.
The cultural heritage interactive 3D model is a formal “game”,
using also open source and free software (Guarnieri, Pirotti, &
Vettore, 2010), in the fluid “play” of the tourist virtual experi-
There has arisen a new interdisciplinary knowledge that in-
terprets the traces of the past and the interpretations of special-
ists, such as professional archaeologists. It re-invents the
memories of the past embodied in archaeological finds with
presentations and with narrative and visual representations in
which something is re-invented to amaze and to “play”, as if the
visitor was really an art or archaeology professional; in reality,
however, it has a ludic and liminal role, without the search for
sincere authenticity. Each initiative “enhances” the archaeo-
logical area with new images truer than the truth: traditional
printed guides showing the place in its ancient splendour, re-
constructed as it once was and compared with the present-day
ruins; interactive touchscreens showing details of a fresco in-
visible to the naked eye; special effects, according to the use
initiated by the French son et lumière method, etc.
The heritage of the senses continues to have a very tradi-
tional function typical of tourism, from the Grand Tour to mass
sightseeing, including the romantic “gaze” with its celebrations
(Urry, 1990; Melotti, 2011). The “case” of the Byzantine heri-
tage at Thessaloniki in Greece demonstrates that the organizers
have shared the national character anchored to a “golden” past
(Chronis, 2006). However, collective memory as a praxis in-
corporated in multi-sensory experience is a legacy of mass
tourism and is useful for enduring forms of national pride. This
can motivate the enhancement of the heritage but it is only an
“as if”, a type of “play”, because the true ambition is to attract
multi-sensory cultural tourists from all parts of the world.
“Strong” categories of collective identity (contrasted to frag-
mentation or historical discontinuity) and of authenticity (con-
trasted to falseness) are not effective in explaining the preva-
lence of “play”, “fantasy” and “entertainment” that characterize
the now consolidated global mobility of cosmopolitan visitors
who make the journey serious leisure (Stebbins, 2007). This is
tourism that “crosses” borders and generates new attractions no
longer conforming to strong traditional affiliations, such as
national pride or “memory” of a past that should give meaning
to the present. The visual culture of archaeological areas gives
rise to cosmopolitan knowledge and skills in the management
of technologies, hybridizing them with tourism. Satisfying the
users of virtual reality also increases the symbolic, and thus
economic, value of the de-territorialized archaeological area.
Beyond Critical Theories
The re-invention of archaeological areas via virtual reality is
part of a trend of contemporary capitalism that uses visual cul-
ture as a productive factor. The virtual reality of digital media is
part of the entertainment industry, which breaks down the bor-
ders between disciplines, types of knowledge and spatial prac-
tices to create a new mix of knowledge. This is a post-Ford
industry dominated by the assembly line, which fuses several
sectors of the economy: cinema, show business, tourism, pub-
lishing, design, games, sport, etc. The connections “between”
and “across” in various visual practices give an innovative
meaning to the recreational and cultural experience. This fusion
is not “liquid”, because it is accomplished by powers with cul-
tural hegemony. The entertainment industry, even if it shows a
friendly face, is no less structured and pervasive than the fac-
tory and the modern state.
The organization of the work and the skills is interdiscipli-
nary and requires creative groups constituted in a selective
manner. It does not give rise to the de-skilling of McDonaldiza-
tion (Ritzer, 1996). The creative groups form professional elites
practising a new cultural hegemony in heritage and archaeo-
logical areas, with the showing off of non-ephemeral realiza-
tions that require incremental knowledge and cross-fertilization
of humanistic and technological disciplines, as well as profes-
sionalisms with up-skilling in the interdisciplinary treatment of
various expertises. It is necessary, for instance, to know how to
integrate the knowledge of classical studies, the creativeness of
virtual reality and the marketing of archaeological areas. The
Disney figure of the imagineer (engineer of images) is an ex-
ample of these highly skilled professionals. On the other hand,
choreographies and technological installations require “narra-
tive metaphors” (Missikoff, 2005), which in turn presuppose a
mixture of creativity and technological, linguistic, pedagogical,
psychological and advertising skills. Rambaldi, the already
mentioned Oscar winner for special effects, has formed an in-
terdisciplinary team in Rimini, Italy, to fuse cinematic inven-
tions with virtual realities that interpret the history of archaeo-
logical areas, and he has also established companies with mar-
keting management skills for tourism management of sites.
Therefore, skills of advanced knowledge workers can be identi-
fied in re-invented archaeological areas. In this context, archae-
ologists and managers can form collaborative partnerships to
draw economic resources from the polysensorial tourism mar-
ket to create a consensus necessary to make the tourist destina-
tion unique in terms of quality and appeal.
Talking of the “Disneyfication” of archaeological areas
mainly seems an aesthetic cultural criticism by somewhat snob-
bish intellectuals (Löfgren, 1999; Urbain, 1991). In parallel,
worries about the environmental impact of virtual reality often
appear excessive. In fact, the deterioration of ancient monu-
ments is due to causes quite different from a touchscreen or
from a virtual head that speaks and tells stories about the place
to entertain tourists or from an innovative GPS-based visual
8 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Polysensoriality vs Staged Authenticity and
Tourist Gaze
Virtual and experiential archaeology is not only the empow-
erment of traditional tourism communication, included in an
original promotional mix. It is not only a new means of public-
ity added to those of the old media. It is not only a further op-
portunity to spread formal knowledge, located in the head of
archaeologists as specialists of the logos (edu-entertainment). It
is not only the materialization of immaterial knowledge, related
mainly to visual culture, which generates a new experience and
stimulates both the senses and the intellect (ludic polysensorial-
ity). It is all of these things together.
The new polysensorial gaze is not based on seeing (the tour-
ist gaze of Urry, 1990) but rather on re-seeing what was imag-
ined through the old and new media before the start of the
journey, when the tourist was a television or cinema viewer or
the reader of a cartoon or the user of a film with contents gen-
erated by an opinion leader or a friend who included it in the
blog. The place has already been seen at the cinema or in the
blog of an online community and it has already been narrated
via word-of-mouth and intermittent discussions with interested
people or hobbyists. The journey is a re-seeing: a re-living of
the experience elaborated with the imagination and now created
by enterprises that also operate in tourism to satisfy the expec-
tations and materialize the mental maps of tourists. The possi-
bility of visiting an archaeological area online before actually
visiting it is one aspect of a general trend that, for instance,
allows the tourist to use the online visit to choose the hotel
room most suitable for his needs. The manager of the archaeo-
logical area a nd the hotel manager are simply stimulated to use
the web marketing video to adapt the offer to the new tourist,
self-confident and competent in mixing the services by himself.
Once the clear distinction between authenticity and repre-
sentation disappears, the clear distinction between collective
gaze and romantic gaze and between ordinary and extraordinary
theorized by Urry also disappears. The representations are
linked to personal relationships, which provide moments of
happiness and thus of authenticity co-existing in the gaze that
intermittently alternates ordinary and extraordinary in anchor-
places to be visited during the journey. Hence, it is not possible
to draw a clear distinction between authentic extraordinary
objects, sought by the tourist because they are unique, and non-
authentic ordinary representations, consisting of services that
commercialize culture. There is no longer a distinction, but
rather mixture, pastiche, flows and mobility.
The authentic experience in archaeological areas does not
involve the depth of MacCannell’s back region (1976) or
Urry’s romantic gaze, but the ability to play with hybridizations
of knowledge in order to learn both the historicity of the speci-
mens (journey into the past) and the new visual arts through
archaeology as a pretext (journey into the change induced by
contemporary in v en t io ns ) .
Case studies have shown that the actors in archaeological ar-
eas enhanced by media (organizers of the offer, commercial
intermediaries, technologists, users, etc.) are not nostalgic for
heritage and, more in general, for cultural tourism that journeys
to the past as if it were better than the present, to experience an
ontological authenticity represented at different levels of “sin-
cerity” and “truth” in the objects. The joyous post-modern re-
invention shatters the “ritual respect” and “celebration” of ar-
chaeological finds as transcendences, which have survived
urbanism and transformative modernity that forgets the past in
the search of the new. Instead, the past is a resource for rela-
tional authenticity to be experienced in the present, re-inventing
memories to be happy here and now without reactive nostalgia.
Hence, the sale of objects and experiences creates a relational
authenticity aimed at the construction of friendly, intermittent,
playful networks. They are the consequence of collaborative
intentionality, of free choices and of hybridization of cultures
and differences. The authenticity is relational, knowingly in-
vented and measured on the basis of the levels of happiness
people experience by participating in the multimedia play of
post-modern cultural tourism. The authenticity is in the rela-
tionships that it generates and that are recognized as inter-sub-
jective experiences in the interpretation of memories.
Conserved from MacCannell is the idea of “authenticity”, but
this is understood as a resource fused with other cultural re-
sources. Conserved from Urry is the idea that archaeological
areas constitute “moorings” (Hannam, Sheller, & Urry, 2006)
to the mobility of flows, information, ideas and people; they are
meeting places that generate moments of happiness to recall
without nostalgia but to repeat with new trips, including them
in a flow that goes beyond the distinctions between work and
leisure and the life cycle of each tourist.
Virtual Archaeological Areas and the Theory of
In archaeological areas we can observe economic and cul-
tural powers that use the polysensorial immaterial (information,
images, sounds, lights, etc.) as a productive resource of the
post-modern economy. Fantasy is made real.
In the Taylor-Ford economy and in industrial tourism the one
best way was sought with standardized models (e.g. manage-
ment of the sightseer’s gaze within the all-inclusive tour). In the
post-modern economy of virtual entertainment there are various
solutions: creativity and interdisciplinarity are encouraged and
the rules of management are negotiable, based on free collabo-
rative partnerships among stakeholders interested in exchanging
knowledge, skills and services. For tourism, this leads to the
invention of polysensorial experiences via quality inventions
and services that form paid cultural resources or new products
for an active and experiential tourist.
The theory of hyper-tourism (Costa & Martinotti, 2003) ex-
plains the change without reference to apocalyptic theses on
contemporary capitalism. It partly replaces the thesis of staged
authenticity (MacCannell, 1976) and the phenomenology of the
tourist gaze (Urry, 1990). Hyper-tourism does not require Mac-
Cannell’s distinction between back and front region or Urry’s
distinction between ordinary and extraordinary: virtual reality is
a type of play knowingly organized and chosen by users to
experience the fantasy city (Hunnigan, 1998), which extends its
innovations to archaeological areas. Experiences of authenticity
and extraordinariness are invented by actors perfectly aware
that “this is play” and that hyper-tourism is an “as if” (from 3D
reconstruction to virtual reality). The archaeological is a place
to play and a place in play (Sheller & Urry, 2004).
The comparative analysis of archaeological areas demon-
strates that the trend toward hybridization of types of knowl-
edge is at the beginning and is probably destined to spread with
new proposals. The development is non-linear. The spatial
practices of digital hyper-tourism are controversial. Our analy-
sis has revealed the substantial difference between archaeo-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 59
60 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
logical areas managed with openness to the diversity and plu-
rality of “arguments competing” to define what is beautiful and
what is ugly, what is useful and what is harmful, what gives
happiness and what gives unhappiness, and archaeological ar-
eas managed in a hierarchical manner because intellectual elites
(archaeologists, for instance) seek to be the unique interpreters
of the place and refuse the hybridization of types of knowledge,
among which digital media which might ruin the “purity” of the
area. In the former case, the management contributes to en-
hancement via virtual reality and uses its new professionals as
interpreters of the culture of archaeological areas. Through
regulations, the scientific directors adopt rules and behaviours
and demonstrate trust in the fact that there are neither losers nor
winners, all the actors can “win together” with initiatives that
“increase” the meanings of the place. In the latter case, many
projects remain unrealized because the purist elite has imposed
vetoes and wishes to drive away the operators of digital-medi-
ated experience. Archaeologists are afraid of losing their exclu-
sive right to the place.
This paper demonstrates that in archaeological areas it is
possible to apply a theory of regulation based on a bottom-up
model and on collaborative partnerships among humanist intel-
lectuals, digital media technologists (from 3D reconstruction to
virtual reality) and entertainment entrepreneurs.
The paragraph 1 has been written by both authors; the para-
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