Heritage stories

Ullastret 3D, walk through an Iberian town that existed 2000 years ago

After two years of intense work, the virtual reconstruction of the Iberian town of Ullastret is now ready to receive visitors. Follow it at #ullastret3d

The settlement of Ullastret

The Iberian settlement of the Puig de Sant Andreu d'Ullastret (Baix Empordà) is considered to be the largest Iberian town from that period in Catalonia. It was the capital of the Iberian tribe, which also received the name “Indigetes”, in the ancient writings of Avienus, Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny the Elder. That tribe inhabited the regions of the L'Empordà and La Selva. Apart from the hill (puig, in Catalan, hence the name), the Iberian city of Ullastret had a second very nearby settlement that is known today as L'Illa d'en Reixac, which sits in the middle of a lake.

This Iberian town lived the height of its splendour between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, at a time when the population exceeded 6,000. Temples, streets, noble homes... and above all, striking walls made Ullastret a great capital that played a major role in trade, along with the nearby Greek city of Empúries.

Today, thanks to the Patrimoni en Acció (Heritage in Action) programme, which promotes the social use and knowledge of Catalan cultural heritage under the auspices of the Department of Culture and Obra Social "la Caixa", we can see for ourselves what the great Iberian town of Ullastret was actually like.






New archaeological research

In the most recent years, several different archaeological research interventions have been carried out at Ullastret. In 2012, a number of geophysical surveys were conducted, affording in-depth knowledge of the set-up of the city, its houses and its streets. These surveys, for example, have enabled archaeologists to re-make practically the entire urban sector of L'Illa de'n Reixac.

In 2012 and 2014, other archaeological surveys were carried out on the hill, (at Puig de Sant Andreu d'Ullastret), one of which specifically focused on the wall area. Those tasks enabled the team to identify the shape and dimensions of the large moat that surrounded the city, serving as an additional defence to its mighty walls.

All of the data obtained, together with those compiled previously, sketched out an image of the Iberian town that was very different from the notions that traditionally inhabited the imaginary of scholars and laypeople. To spread word of this new image of the city and after analysing the different possible options, it was decided to build a 3D virtual reconstruction of the entire complex.

Compiling information

For the virtual reconstruction of the Iberian city, the specific period around 250 BC was selected, as the most abundant information on the town dated from this era, making for a more faithful reconstruction. The project team, which was made up of archaeologists and 3D modelling specialists, collected all the available archaeological data on the aspects of the city and interpreted them, in order to design and build the reconstruction.

The first part of this reconstruction focused on the landscape around the Iberian town, starting with the perimeter of the lake, followed by the vegetation that was present in that period, the dirt roads and the cultivation fields. 

As to the architecture and the urban set-up, the team used the layouts that they were able to draw up based on the existing remains; yet they also used those obtained through the geophysical explorations. The archaeological information has also enabled the team to form hypotheses regarding the heights of the houses, their construction systems, their roofs, their uses, the objects inside of them and everything relating to their use.





The 3D reconstruction

The 3D modelling team worked closely with the archaeologists from the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia-Ullastret to translate all of the compiled information into a detailed volumetric reconstruction. Street by street, they gradually erected the houses, fitting them into the relief. Though they are all based on similar construction layouts, each house has been adapted to its specific site and to the available information.

The 3D Ullastret project is characterised by the scientific rigor of its archaeological aspect and by the optimal realism of its visual presentation. Photographs of real materials (soils, walls, stones, etc.) were used, and a very meticulous atmospheric lighting was created, enabling the recreation of a totally realistic texture. The fog, the shadows and the clouds instil the image with realism.

Both the streets and the interiors were enhanced with objects from the archaeological holdings on display at the site’s monographic museum, such as amphorae, shields and swords. Other objects, including the carriages and boats, were modelled based on known examples.



The virtual reality

One of the special features of this project is the fact that the process was not carried out by means of the computerised tools typically used for architecture and archaeology. Instead, the team opted for a videogame construction tool. Hence, Unreal Engine was chosen for its power in creating landscapes and for the quality of its photorealistic results. This sort of tool also makes it easy to create immersive experiences, for example, with the use of the virtual reality glasses by Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear or HTC Vive.

A first experience is now available for HTC Vive glasses and is currently on display at specialised conferences within the sector. Other applications are envisaged to be developed in the future, both for the onsite visit and as educational resources for schools, yet always drawing on the fact that this model enables the visitor to stroll through the streets, go inside of the houses and discover the histories of the Iberian town, directly and personally.

A new immersion room

From July 30th, at Ullastret, visitors will be able to live the experience of walking through the streets of this Iberian town of more than 2000 years thanks to a new immersive projection room.
 
The room has been designed as a space to view the 3D in groups, inspired by the innovative concept magic box, a format that allows us to show a new technologies project to all publics and collectively. The room measures 10m2, to carefully reproduce a stay of a common Iberian house, and the floor is made of rubber, simulating the floor of the Iberian town.

 
The audiovisual, that lasts 6 minutes, makes a dreamlike journey through the streets and houses of the Iberian city. The story is narrated by a member of the Iberian elite, who explains dramatic moments of his life in the town, along with some of the totemic animals of the Iberians that also have an important role in the narrative. To enhance the immersive experience, the attention was also focused on the soundtrack and audio effects, with recordings of the original atmosphere of the natural environment and the archaeological site. The audiovisual is available in Catalan, Spanish, French, English and German.
 

The Patrimoni en Acció (Heritage in Action) programme is the result of the collaboration agreement between the Department of Culture of the Catalan Government and Obra Social "la Caixa" Its aim is to make the cultural heritage of Catalonia accessible to the people, while providing them with the most helpful tools for their comprehension and enjoyment