Link: Castle of Shadows

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March 8, 2011 - This posting at BLDGBLOG points to a paper by Philippe Codognet who mentions a 600 year old precursor to a virtual reality CAVE.  This castellum umbrarum or castle of shadows was described in a volume by Venetian engineer Giovanni Fontana from 1420.  Codognet writes that this is:

a room with walls made of folded translucent parchments lighted from behind, creating therefore an environment of moving images.  Fontana also designed some kind of magic latnern to project on walls life-size images of devils or beasts.

Static immersive environments can be traced back to at least the Romans; see for instance Livia's Villa showing a garden scene that surrounds the visitor and dating back to the first century BCE.  But this well may be the first visually dynamic immersive environment created via magic lantern techniques, but proposed two centuries before Athanasius Kircher's description of the magic lantern.

However perhaps nothing pre-Renaissance can beat the central dining hall in Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden Palace) which was discovered recently.  Contemporary historian Suetonius wrote about the room that -- shades of future planetaria -- rotated to simulate a diurnal cycle, with showers of water that poured from openings in the ceiling to simulate rain.


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