WHAT’S THE STORY? VAMPIRES made it their headquarters in the Twilight TV series and anyone looking up into the skies above Volterra in the run-up to Hallowe’en this year may have been spooked by a glimpse of some odd, flying objects. These strange sights were not vampires, however, or even ghosts or witches but 21st-century drones which it is hoped can help preserve the ancient Italian town. One of the oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet, it dates from over 3000 years ago and amongst its marvels is the oldest standing Etruscan arch in the world. Other archaeological gems include one of the best surviving examples of a Roman theatre and amphitheatre uncovered only last year. What makes the Tuscan town so special is that walking through the streets is like a journey through time as evidence of its early Etruscan and Roman history exists side by side with medieval treasures. “What makes Volterra particularly interesting is not only its 3,000 years of history, but also that there are actually historical monuments from each of these phases, and this is extremely rare,” pointed out historian Guilia Munday of the Volterra International Residential College. “The Etruscan gate, for example, is only one of two in Italy intact as it was originally built, so we are talking of very important monuments.” WHY THE TECHNOLOGY? THE problem is that many treasures are now under threat – and that's where the drones come in. Erosion and natural disasters are just two of the issues facing the town. It rains even in Tuscany and over the years this has eroded intricate carvings. Then in 2014, a landslide wrecked a section of the medieval town wall and last year an earthquake destroyed Umbrian villages just south of Volterra. Elsewhere, outstanding monuments have been blown up by terrorists and while these disasters have occurred far away from these peaceful streets, they have lent a new urgency to the task of preservation. Now, with the help of state-of-the-art technology such as drones, the town’s buildings and artefacts have been recorded digitally, meaning that any part of it that is destroyed could be accurately rebuilt. “Thanks to the experience and dedication of a diverse group of professionals, and a close partnership with Volterra, it was possible to digitally capture the city and its rich history,” said Tristan Randall, of US technology company Autodesk. “Not only will the scans and models captured during this project help architects and urban planners with future restoration but it also protects and preserves the artistic and cultural heritage of Volterra for future generations through interactive and virtual experiences.”

WHAT WILL IT DO? THE two-week project to scan the key historical and archaeological sites was led by Autodesk, Case Technologies and the non-profit Volterra-Detroit Foundation. “It is a digital record, a very accurate digital record that we can use to monitor deterioration and rebuild if needed,” said Randall, who believes the town is a test case for a project that could be replicated throughout the world. As well as a way of preserving Volterra, the technology could also help promote it by creating virtual technology experiences or innovative tourist brochures. “One of the things that is exciting is that we can just evangelise about the culture and excitement of Volterra,” said Randall. However, even with drones and laser scanners, the task has not been easy. There is an archaeological or historical gem around almost every corner of the narrow, twisting streets; a topography that has stretched the technology to its absolute limits. For example, part of the medieval wall that featured a statue of Pope Linus, one of Volterra’s most famous sons, needed 80 different photographs. “It is a really complex testing ground,” said Randall. IS IT REALLY SO SPECIAL? ONE of the most complex scans involved the current mayor’s chambers inside a 13th-century hall. “It’s a nice office – we recently found another fresco,” observed mayor Marco Buselli. Previous town leaders had to contend with warring Medicis, the plague and lawlessness as well as an earthquake in 1846 which razed the historic bell tower. “There is an atmosphere, you can breathe it in while walking, that is unique to Volterra,” said Buselli. “This project gives us an exceptional opportunity to photograph, map and reproduce every corner of our historical and cultural heritage that has unique characteristics. We now have a virtual history book of Volterra that captures 3,000 years worth of overlapped history from this harmonious town. “This type of image reproduction of Volterra could serve to preserve it and become part of the Unesco world heritage list. We wish to obtain this, and 3D images are something that will help us in achieving this,” the mayor said. President of the Volterra-Detroit Foundation Dr Wladek Fuchs, who has been researching the architectural history of Volterra for 20 years, said the project would preserve its cultural heritage for many more years to come. “By digitally capturing these historic portions of the city, the history of Volterra can now be brought to life for historians, students and academics around the world,” he said.