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Ancient Invisible Cities


In autumn 2018, our very own Prof Michael Scott presented a landmark series on BBC2, Ancient Invisible Cities, taking the laser scanning techniques used in Italy's Invisible Cities to Cairo, Athens, and Istanbul. More information can be found on the BBC2 Ancient Invisible Cities website, and at Prof. Scott's website.

This series, with its engaging mixture of adventure, exploration, history, and technology, is an excellent potential teaching resource. More information on the behind the scenes aspects and filming of Ancient Invisible Cities can be found on Michael's website -

Ancient Invisible Cities, Series 1 Episode 1 of 3 - BBC2 Friday 7th September, 9PM

Prof. Michael Scott uses the latest 3D-scanning technology to reveal the historical secrets of Cairo and Ancient Egypt. He explores the first pyramid ever built at Saqqara and finds out how it helped inspire the Great Pyramid of Giza. The 3D scans confirm just how accurately the Great Pyramid was designed and constructed. Michael also investigates the sphinx to try to determine which pharaoh it represents.

But the history of Cairo is not only about the Ancient Egyptians. Michael goes in search of a Roman fortress hidden under a Greek Orthodox church. He also attempts to descend a 90-metre well carved into solid bedrock beneath the Arabic citadel built by Saladin in the 12th century AD. This remarkable well was built by Crusader prisoners of war, and provided the citadel with water in times of siege.

Along the way Michael discovers that the Ancient Egyptians had built their capital, Memphis, close to where Cairo now stands on the banks of the river Nile. This evolved into a Roman fortress called Babylon. And finally the Arabs founded a city called Cairo. Today, it's the largest city in Africa (text adapted from BBC).

Clip: The Well of the Citadel: 


Clip: A Church in Old Cairo hidden in a remarkable Roman Fortress:


360° Travel inside the Great Pyramid of Giza - BBC

Ancient Invisible Cities, Series 1 Episode 2 of 3 - BBC2 Friday 14th September, 9PM

Prof. Michael Scott uses the latest 3D-scanning technology to reveal the historical secrets of ancient Athens and tell the story of how this remarkable city created the world's first democracy two and a half thousand years ago. He begins his journey on the Acropolis, where, in the late 6th century BC, the people of Athens overthrew a tyrant and set up the world's first democracy. There, he investigates a mysterious, asymmetrical temple called the Erechtheion that sits in the shadow of the world famous Parthenon. Decoding the stories from ancient Greek mythology that were built into this temple, he reveals it to be one of the most important buildings of Ancient Athens.

360° Explore the ancient Acropolis (and Erectheion) in Athens - BBC

Michael journeys into the landscape surrounding Athens, to the area of Laurion, 50 miles to the south of the city. He explores inside one of the ancient silver mines that dot this landscape, where an army of slaves once worked in silver production, toiling inside the labyrinth of tunnels, digging silver ore by hand for the good of the city above. He discovers a network of tunnels and galleries barely high enough to crawl through. He reveals that here, in the 480s, the miners hit upon a seam of silver that proved a massive boost to Athens's new democracy. He discovers how democratic Athenians voted on what to do with this money and instead of distributing it among the citizens, decided to invest it in a fleet of warships just in time to tackle a massive invasion force from Persia.

Michael takes a ferry to the island of Salamis, to investigate a harbour where the Greek fleet - including the new Athenian warships - gathered to prepare to take on the Persians. The battle that followed, the Battle of Salamis is considered by many scholars to be one of the most important battles of the Ancient world. Athens and its allies faced a force said to be three times their size and had Athens been defeated, its young, precarious democracy could have been lost to history. He tells the story of the battle and discusses new archaeological remains that date from that time (text adapted from BBC).



Ancient Invisible Cities, Series 1 Episode 3 of 3 - BBC2 Friday 21st September, 9PM

Classical historian Prof Michael Scott takes us on an extraordinary journey through the often-invisible treasures of one of the greatest ancient cities in the world - Istanbul. The city has been at the crossroads of Europe and Asia for over two and a half millennia. From the Greeks and Romans through the Ottomans to the Turks, Istanbul has been fought over, destroyed and rebuilt time after time.

First Michael brings the city's tumultuous history alive in one iconic building - the Hagia Sophia. Built by the Romans, this Christian Cathedral has survived earthquakes, riots, sieges and conquest to become a mosque and now a museum. As Michael explores, he reveals the ingenious solutions that enabled this awe-inspiring church to survive 1,500 years of turmoil. As Istanbul, once known as Constantinople, was built by Emperor Constantine to outdo Rome itself, Michael goes in search of the mighty city the emperor built - Constantinople. Michael discovers that Istanbul is built upon layer upon layer of history and culture, one era's buildings erected on top of the other. With the help of local archaeologists and experts, Michael delves into some surprising spaces, such as the once enormous Hippodrome. It began as a stadium for chariot racing but its foundations were later converted into a huge water cistern to supply the Emperor's Great Palace. Michael wades through its foul-smelling water to uncover the Hippodrome's secrets.

With many of the city's most extraordinary places concealed, out of sight or underground, we turn to the latest 3D-imaging technology to reveal them. Our scanning team help us to see the city as no human eye ever could, peeling back the layers of history, showing how the city has had to reinvent itself over and over through its turbulent past