Ancient Invisible Cities


BBC ONE’s and PBS’s three episode special - Ancient Invisible Cities follows ScanLAB Projects and presenters Dr Michael Scott and Darius Arya as they explore the invisible secrets and hidden treasures of Cairo, Istanbul, Athens.

The shows explore how these cities, built on the shoulders of many ancient civilizations, have evolved over the course of thousands of years, revealing their engineering marvels, structural gymnastics and hidden architectural gems all buried deep beneath the streets of these modern metropolises.

We journeyed deep under the Giza Plateau, exploring the secret labyrinth of chambers and passages beneath the Pyramids. Uncovered the crystal clear waters of subterranean aqueducts that feed the irrigation system of old Athens. And discovered how Istanbul has defended itself against marauding invasions and collapse of its magnificent Hagia Sophia dome.

Accompanying the launch of the series, the BBC and PBS have released a set of 360 degree films, created from the LiDAR scans and combined with binaural sound and narration by the presenters, audiences are invited on their own immersive journey.

ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Ground LIDAR scan of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The team experienced unprecedented access to some of the world’s most known treasures and most recent archaeological finds, guided by on-lieu experts and archeologists. Often access was complex but exciting - abseiling 20 meters down through a manhole cover into underground aqueduct in Athens or delicately picking our way in pitch black, solid rock tunnels in the Pyramids. The result is some of the most comprehensive scanning achieved for these structure, in an unprecedented level of colour, accuracy and detail.


ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Ground LIDAR scan of the Great Pyramid, Giza, Egypt

In Cairo we explore the pyramids, structures which have dominated the Nile landscape for thousands of years. We discover how the engineering and design skills of the ancient Egyptians developed and how in as little as 80 years they master the art of constructing one of the wonders of the ancient world. We look at how modern Cairo is founded and how Saladin’s defensive forts dug deep into the bedrock in search of a source of fresh water to last out Christian Crusader sieges. And we attempt to unravel the riddle of the Sphinx by scanning and comparing depictions of both Khufu and Khafre from the Egyptian Museum to look for a family resemblance.

ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Ground LIDAR scan of Khufu and Khafre with face recognition


ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Ground LIDAR scan of the interior of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Where East and West collide, Istanbul has been at the centre of trade and the heart of some of the ancient world's most powerful empires. Commanded by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians and Ottomans, the city’s location on the peninsula and its defensive walls came to play an important role in the city’s history. An ambitious attempt to map the whole city and its walls is undertaken by the team using a helicopter and photogrammetric scanning technology, concluding in one of the most stunning and detailed city wide scans ever completed. The team also descended on the Hagia Sophia, one of the world oldest churches - now a mosque - to scan and inspect its wobbly looking dome.

ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Aerial scan of the Istanbul Peninsula


ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
Aerial and ground LIDAR scan of the Erechtheion Temple in the Athens Acropolis

One of the oldest cities in the world, here we look at the birthplace of democracy. The Acropolis with its proportion, symmetry and architectural golden ratios are all put to the test by the scanner. Its accuracy and forensic detail are the perfect tools of unpicking the narratives woven into the design of the Erechtheion Temple. We pick up traces of Athens defensive walls and naval ship sheds, pivotal in repelling attacks by the Persians, Ottomans and Sparta. Outside Athens we trace the veins of silver ore with the scanner as the narrow tunnels disappear deep into the hillsides.

ScanLAB Projects | Ancient Invisible Cities
VR immersive view in the Caryatids Porch of the Erechtheion