European Time Machine project to visualise past


Researchers and historians at Antwerp University will lend their expertise to the EU’s Time Machine FET Flagship project, which will create 3D illustrations of how European cities looked hundreds of years ago

Antwerp circa 1650

Antwerp University (UAntwerp) is participating in the Time Machine FET Flagship project, which will visualise the past of cities in 3D. The project is one of the EU’s FET Flagships, described as “visionary, science-driven, large-scale research initiatives addressing grand scientific and technological challenges”.

Time Machine, which is set to receive between €500,000 and €1 million in funding, brings together some 70 institutions from 20 countries to build a simulator that will map up to 2,000 years of European history.

Information about people and places will be retrieved from billions of photographs, paintings, manuscripts and books, connected by computers and placed on a digital map. Eventually, 3D simulations will show us what cities – including Venice and Antwerp – looked like hundreds of years ago.

“The purpose is to create virtual, historic cities that people can move around in,” said UAntwerp historian Tim Soens. “Like Google Street View works today, but with the time dimension as an extra layer.”

The project offers various scientific applications, including helping urban historians examine how certain areas have developed throughout the centuries. The project also offers tourism opportunities, allowing visitors to experience life in Bruges in the middle ages, for instance.

The “construction” of the Time Machine is scheduled to start in 2021. Leuven University Library is one of the Flemish organisations that has agreed to provide access to its materials.