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The Past is the Present on PBS’ ‘Ancient Invisible Cities’

Second Installment of the 3-Part Series, Set in Cairo, Airs Tonight

With the focus at PBS on original programming that educates and inspires, where new worlds, new discoveries and new technologies are explored, three-part series “Ancient Invisible Cities” possesses all the ingredients…and more.

Debuting on August 29 in the location of Athens, set tonight in Cairo, and culminating in Istanbul on Sept. 12, the series features Professor Darius Arya as he explores and celebrates the hidden secrets of these three fascinating cities – the obscure structures and buried treasures — through the art 3D scanning. From the buildings on the Acropolis in Athens to the silver mines and quarries beyond the city; to Egypt’s ancient treasures (including the first pyramid ever built and a hidden Roman fortress) and the journey through ancient Istanbul; Professor Arya brings a fresh perspective to more than 4,000 years of history.


 
“We are in a co-producing partnership with BBC Studios and we look for projects themed to history and the intersection of technology to enhance our storytelling,” said Bill Gardner, VP of Programming & Development at PBS. “All the places we go to in ‘Ancient Invisible Cities’ feature iconic and unique buildings as well as long history that lends itself to the storytelling. By using these 3D scanning devices and really getting inside these cities you can deepen the history and take the viewer inside the experience of going to some of these places.”
 
The 3D scanning analyzes these real-world environments to collect data on its shape and possibly its appearance. The collected data is then used to construct digital three-dimensional models.
 
“Along the surface you are seeing all these beautiful buildings in a city like Istanbul, for example. But what you don’t know is there is a whole other city underground,” added Gardner. “By watching this show you see how everything is connected.”
 
Professor Darius Arya
 
Known for his archaeological digs and discoveries in Roman culture, as well as travel blogging during his life in this capacity, Professor Arya is also a documentary host and executive director of the American Institute for Roman Culture (which he founded in 2002). He currently hosts series “Under Italy” in Italian on Rai5 (Italy’s national culture channel). He honed his hosting skills on Discovery, History and National Geographic. And he has been cited in articles in CNN, Time, BBC and The Guardian.

Equipped with high-definition 3D scanners, sub-sea LiDAR and multi-spectral images, Professor Arya takes viewers behind the scenes of three distinct metropolises in “Ancient Invisible Cities.”
 
“The world is a very complicated and difficult place, which is all the more reason to celebrate history and to go and explore,” noted Professor Arya. “This is an opportunity to take something in the text books and just experience it. So around the world, whether or not we travel, we are going to places sometimes totally known and sometimes totally unknown to give you a new kind of perspective.”

“For a person who likes to travel, ‘Ancient Invisible Cities’ could give you inspiration,” he added. “But in addition to revealing the sights and the locations, I like to show how complex and interesting the histories of these famous cities truly are. Technology helps, good storytelling helps, and just getting into some fun complicated locations only adds to the experience.”


 
“Ancient Invisible Cities” Episode Guide
 

In “Ancient Invisible Cities”: Athens, Professor Arya travels 50 miles south of the Acropolis to explore inside the depths of one of the ancient silver mines present at this landscape. There, he and the SCAN team discover a network of tunnels and galleries that have not been adequately explored, as well as massive sections of Athens’ city walls built in the 5th century BC to protect the city from attackers. He also visits Mount Pentelli, 11 miles from the center of the city, where he finds the ancient quarries where Athenians cut the stone that went to making the new buildings — the Parthenon, the Propylaea and the Erechtheion – constructed on the Acropolis during the late 5th century BC.

For a look, click here


 
In “Ancient Invisible Cities”: Cairo, Professor Arya goes in search of a Roman fortress hidden under a Greek Orthodox Church in the old city and a 90-yard well deep below the Arabic citadel. Along the way, he discovers that the Ancient Egyptians built their first capital, Memphis, in the vicinity of where Cairo now stands on the banks of the River Nile. And he reveals how the first pyramid ever built – the stepped pyramid at Saqqara – helped inspire the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Additionally, Professor Arya in Cairo explores the underground labyrinth buried deep beneath the Giza Pyramid, and he investigates the Sphinx to try to determine the question of which pharaoh it represents.

For a look, click here


 
Finally, in “Ancient Invisible Cities”: Istanbul, Professor Ayra brings the city in Turkey’s history alive in his examination of one of history’s most iconic buildings – the Hagia Sophia. Built by the Romans, this Christian Cathedral has survived 1,500 years of earthquakes, riots, sieges and conquest to become a mosque and now a museum. With the help of local archaeologists and experts, Professor Arya discovers that the once enormous Hippodrome that began as a stadium for chariot racing has been converted into a gargantuan water tank to service the Emperor’s Great Palace. And he unearths a holy well hidden 30 feet under a modern carpet shop, and finds that part of the once Bucoleun Palace have fallen into disrepair after years of religious warfare (among other findings).

For a look, click here

“Cities that have unique architectural elements or layouts and where they are in the environment, and it doesn’t just have to be ancient ruins, is our focus,” noted PBS’ Bill Gardner, who is hoping to produce additional episodes of ‘Ancient Invisible Cities’ past the initial three. “And the 3D scanning gets every measurable surface where you can build accurate models of cityscapes and buildings you can get below ground.”

“Peru would be a great place to travel to, I think, in future episodes, as would places like Vietnam and Myanmar,” added Professor Arya. “History is everywhere, things are being uncovered, and it is all about getting a new kind of perspective. We can go to Asia, or North or South America perhaps. These invisible cities are everywhere. The opportunities are limitless.”
 
Coming Up on PBS

With the emphasis (a la “Ancient Invisible Cities”) on the integration of new technology to enhance both the stories and the visual experience, PBS will introduce new series “The Amazing Human Body” and “Native America” this fall.

“The Amazing Human Body,” a three-part event, uses cutting-edge graphics to demonstrate how your body develops, adapts and endures. It premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 19 (at 8 p.m. ET). And “Native America,” which is narrated by Robbie Robertson (Mohawk and member of rock group The Band), opens on Tuesday, Oct. 23 (at 9 p.m. ET). The four-part series explores the splendor and ingenuity of the world created by America’s First Peoples, 15,000 years ago. Combining modern science with Native knowledge, the “Native America” shines a spotlight on these ancient cultures and the communities that still exist – and thrive — today.

”To bring this series to life, the producers of ‘Native America’ filmed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, collaborating with Native communities across the two continents,” noted Sumner Menchero, director of station engagement at PBS at the recent Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles. “What emerged from this close collaboration was an authentic voice for Native knowledge and beliefs, an exploration of the world created by Native Americans in its earliest origins in a pre-contact world through today.”

For more on PBS programming, click here

Written by Marc Berman

Marc Berman

Marc Berman has been writing professionally since 1999 and is the author of the “Mr. Television” for Campaign US (www.campaignlive.com). Most recently, Berman was the creator and Editor-in-Chief of website and newsletter TV Media Insights for Cross MediaWorks. From 1999-2011, he was the Senior Editor for Mediaweek and has also written for The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Emmy Magazine, among others. Berman has also appeared on “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra,” “Access Hollywood,” “Inside Edition,” “The CBS Evening News,” E!, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and MSNBC.

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