Bringing Ancient Olympia Back to Life

A new digital revival project, "Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds," harnesses artificial intelligence to bring the ancient sanctuary back to life like never before.


An innovative project to digitally preserve and restore Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, has been inaugurated at an event attended by the President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The project, a collaboration between the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and Microsoft, will allow viewers to explore the ancient Panhellenic sanctuary as it stood more than 2,000 years ago.

Through its AI for Cultural Heritage initiative, Microsoft partnered with technology company Iconem to take hundreds of thousands of images using on-the-ground cameras and aerial drones to create a 3D map of the entire site. Artificial intelligence technology was then used to restore the buildings and monuments as photorealistic models, bringing them back to life and digitally preserving them for future generations.

Viewers from around the world can now explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Greece remotely via an augmented-reality mobile app or take a digital tour on their desktop computer. People can also use the mobile app when touring the site in person.

At the Olympic Museum in Athens, visitors can use HoloLens headsets to overlay a digital version of the site. The HoloLens smart glasses use multiple sensors, advanced optics and holograms to display information, blending the real world with the virtual recreation of the site.

“Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds is a unique way of experiencing Greece’s proud cultural heritage. Visitors around the world can virtually visit the ancient site of Olympia and experience history firsthand using augmented reality technology,” said Prime Minister Mitsotakis at the inauguration event last week.

The idea to digitally preserve ancient Olympia started in January 2020 at the Davos Economic Forum.

Microsoft President Brad Smith lauded the project as a “stunning achievement in cultural heritage, bringing together humanity and cutting-edge technology to benefit the world, and empower coming generations with new ways to explore our past.”

Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds

In total, the project digitally preserves 27 monuments, including the original Olympic Stadium, the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the workshop of the renowned sculptor Phedias, who famously crafted the giant statue of Zeus in the 430s BC, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The buildings are recreated in lifelike detail, incorporating painstaking research carried out by the Greek Ministry’s expert archaeologists, and include historical timelines and depictions of artifacts from each period.

The digital revival project also allows viewers to walk the streets of the ancient sanctuary and explore the extensive network of ruins, including the Gymnasium, where the athletes trained and prepared for the Games.

The collaboration brought together specialists from archaeology and digital design to preserve the past with the use of AI technology, ensuring the rich history and common values that the ancient site were built upon are handed over to future generations.

“With the digital representation of the Panhellenic sanctuary of Ancient Olympia, its cultural heritage — but also the values of Olympianism, peace, harmony, excellence and noble rivalry — becomes accessible to the whole world through the use of state-of-the-art technology,” said Lina Mendoni, Minister of Culture and Sports.

The Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds Exhibition, featuring the HoloLens 2 Virtual Tour, is now open to the public at the Athens Olympic Museum.

More information can be found here.


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