An interactive new journey through antiquity

The orderly ancient Athens on show at the Foundation of the Hellenic World’s new dome on its Hellenic Cosmos complex near the broken sidewalks of Pireos Street is a far cry from the chaotic modern city of today. But the contrast only highlights the possibilities for the foundation, which has been lauded for developing innovative educational programs. Its virtual-reality theater, which seats 132 people and was opened last December by President Karolos Papoulias, is particularly notable. And the foundation has invested in good architecture: The building’s exterior is lovely, resembling a spinning heavenly body. Giorgos Andreadis, Yiannis Tsiomis and Natalia Ephraimoglou have designed a «building in motion» achieved through clever use of surface area and materials such as the alternating rings encircling the outer surface of the dome, and special lighting. To drive by it at night is to be rewarded by the unique phantasmagoric sight of a lighted sphere. The dome is the Hellenic Cosmos complex’s new architectural symbol, its flagship. The underground and outdoor parking areas are entered from the rear. The entire complex is very well organized, even if one arrives at the same time as a gaggle of schoolchildren. The cafe and ticket offices (and it’s a good idea to book beforehand) are in the huge foyer, which was formed by unifying the original Hellenic Cosmos building with the dome itself. The first impression inside the theater brings to mind the newly renovated Eugenides Foundation’s Planetarium, but the resemblance ends with the dome’s shape and the reclining seats. For this is where the innovations begin. The seats are equipped with four navigation knobs, a joystick and small screens that transform the audience from passive observers into co-creators in the course of the history on show. The first interactive production is a virtual tour of Athens’s Ancient Agora in three different periods of its history – Classical, Hellenistic and Roman. In this production, the audience can to some extent influence the course of history, by voting on the way the tour develops, or taking part in role playing games. As an example, we watched the greatest Athenian festival in classical times, the Panathenaea. By hitting the right buttons on their consoles, members of the audience can talk to the athletes or even take part in the events themselves. But there are two innovations which are difficult to perceive with the naked eye. The computers set their course through digital space based on coordinates provided by averaging out the directions given by the audience with their joysticks. At the same time, the small screens on the consoles can replay something shown earlier, or give more detail about a particular section of the film. The digital performance is the result of the dome’s pioneering technological infrastructure (24 Dell computers with dual core processors) and stereoscopic display, creating a new digital experience that is unique. (Hellenic World, 254 Pireos, tel 212.254.0000, This article appeared in the January 7 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.

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