Rediscovering Testaccio and SDI for an urban landscape

The Rediscovering Testaccio Spatial Data Infrastructure addresses the need for accessible information to support the management and research of the history and heritage of Testaccio. The project is part of the Challenging Testaccio research project organized by the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome. Features from the past in present cities have been identified as valuable and as potential assets for future urban development. Transferring knowledge about the history and heritage of the urban landscape is considered to be a challenging matter. Because much of this information can be linked to a geographical location, a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) would be a valuable facility in support of their work.

Background Challenging Testaccio Project

Testaccio is an urban district within a stone’s throw from the historical centre of Rome. It houses a number of famous Classical monuments, such as the Cestian Pyramid and the Monte Testaccio. In ancient times the area was the river harbour of the city. In the early 20th century it was covered by blocks of flats, accomodating the labourers, so crucial to Rome’s city development. Modern Testaccio is an urban landscape in flux, which poses major challenges to its built heritage, especially when viewed in its broadest sense, including Classical monuments as well as industrial buildings and ‘palazzi’. How can the tensions between heritage management and urban renewal be resolved? Can history and heritage contribute to sustainable social and economic development? These and other questions are central to the Testaccio project. The project brings together researchers from Italy, the Netherlands and other countries,working, amongst others, on the creation of a Spatial Data Infrastructure, archival research, excavations and urban design. The final aim is to investigate the urban landscape as a palimpsest of closely interwoven histories and to study how these can be integrated into the modern city.

A Digital Cultural Biography App

To test the added value of the SDI developed an experiment was organized by the SPINlab in close collaboration with the Roma Tre Università facoltà di architettura and the KNIR. From the SDI a digital cultural biography app, which is freely available in itunes here, was developed and used during a design concourse by 35 architects. The aim of the experiment was to measure the impact of historical and heritage information generated by past oriented scholars (archaeologists, historians etc.) on more future oriented scholars like urban planners.

The content of the App is gathered by the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome KNIR together with the Spatial Information Laboratory (SPINlab) VU University Amsterdam ( and Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma (SSBAR). The App is developed by the 2CoolMonkeys and the SPINlab. The experiment was sponsored by the Royal Dutch Airlines KLM ( and il Disegno Testaccio. Researchers involved from the VU: Maurice de Kleijn, Niels van Manen and Gert-Jan Burgers.

A research paper on the development of the app can be downloaded here. The Designs produced during the design concourse can be found here.

A publication related to Rediscovering Testaccio
UMAP 2013 de Kleijn, M.T.M., van Aart, C., van Manen, N., Burgers, G-J., Scholten, H.J., Testaccio, A Digital Cultural Biography App, in: UMAP 2013 Extended Proceedings of the 21st Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation, and Personalization, Rome, Italy, June 10-14, 2013.