A stroll around Pompeii, courtesy of Google's Street View

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If you can’t be one of

the 2.5 million tourists who wander through the streets of Pompeii every year,

you now have another option: Google’s Street View.

The 360-degree panoramic street-level service debuted last week in the ancient Roman town that was buried in Mount Vesuvius’ catastrophic eruption in 79 A.D.

Statues, temples, amphitheaters, as well as close-up views of houses, bakeries and baths are now visible on the search engine’s free mapping service.

Virtual tours of archaeological sites abound on the Web and in DVDs. With just a few clicks, you can easily take a tour of ancient Rome, enter Egypt’s Great Pyramid or climb the Acropolis in Greece.

The problem is that too often these computer reconstructions look the same. As you move your mouse around, you are taken into unrealistic, clean, lifeless, plastic-coated landscapes.

Google’s Street View application offers a much more realistic and lively experience, making you feel as if you were walking down a street among many other tourists.

The opportunity to walk virtually through the wonders of Pompeii is a powerful way to boost Italian tourism.
The opportunity to walk virtually through the wonders of Pompeii is a powerful way to boost Italian tourism.

“The opportunity to walk virtually through the wonders of Pompeii is a powerful way to boost Italian tourism. It will actually encourage many potential tourists to come in person to visit the archaeological site,” Mario Resca, from the ministry’s heritage promotion department, said.

Despite recent efforts to spruce up Pompeii by opening up new sites, hosting theatrical events, and taking care of the stray dogs, Street View highlights the deteriorating condition of the ruins.

“From a conservation point of view it is now obvious to a larger number of the public how much the site has suffered,” Blogging Pompeii, a blog for people and archaeologists working at Pompeii, noted.

Launched in 2007, Google’s Street View provides panoramic street-level views of more than 100 cities around the world.

Recent additions include the prehistoric site of Stonehenge, the ancient Spanish city of Caceres and the Palace of Versailles, the official residence of the Kings of France.

Photo: courtesy of Paola Agazzi