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Intrepid Explorer

Professor Michael Scott gives the lowdown on his new BBC series Ancient Invisible Cities and life in Putney

Academic, author, broadcaster and Putney resident Professor Michael Scott has recently found himself in some pretty hairy places; meters under the Egyptian pyramids, deep in ancient quarries, exploring active volcano craters and almost trapped in ancient Greek mine shafts. In his new BBC2 series, Ancient Invisible Cities: Cairo, Istanbul and Athens, Michael brings the past to life and explores some of the least accessible and forgotten parts of the world. Enjoying a stellar career, Wimbledon-born Michael is also one of the youngest Warwick Faculty of Arts academics in recent history to be made a professor and is an honorary citizen of Delphi, Greece, in recognition of his work to bring the site to world attention.

What do you like most about the show? 

I absolutely love throwing myself into the physical stuff. It’s so exhilarating, and terrifying! We’ve been abseiling, caving, filming underwater and in some crazy places. We’ve been deep underground the pyramids in Egypt – in underground spaces in Cairo that no one has accessed for the last ten years. We were underneath the Great Pyramid at Giza at one point and you could just visualise the millions of tonnes of rock above your head.

What are your most memorable moments? 

There’s one location in this series, an underground aqueduct in Athens, that’s never been filmed before because it’s just so difficult to get to. We had to abseil 16m underground to explore the tunnel. It’s absolutely tiny – at one point all you could do was lie and let the water flowing through the aqueduct propel you along the tunnel because it was so tight.

Michael Scott

Where was the scariest place you filmed?

In terms of actual difficulties of access and of movement, and the worry of getting lost,
I think the mines of Athens were the worst. We were exploring a series of ancient shafts in Athens that had been created 2,500 years ago to mine silver. Mining those shafts was known as the worst job you could get as a slave in the ancient Greek world and you could see why. The shafts were incredibly small and narrow.
I actually do get a bit claustrophobic and so this caving was really at my limit – but you truly felt like you were in the footsteps of the ancient world. We were getting into spaces and locations that even I as a professor of classics was not aware of.

“I’m not always donning scuba gear or abseiling – the series shows the different sides of Athens, Istanbul or Cairo today, from the markets, the cuisine, and the culture.”

What if I’m not a history buff?

What if I’m not a history buff? The shows are amazing whether you know much about ancient history or not and our high tech scans and virtual reality worlds bring a whole new dimension. We are bringing places to life for a much wider public and going, ‘hey you know, these cities have a fascinating stories in their own right’. I’m not always donning scuba gear or abseiling – the series shows the different sides of Athens, Istanbul or Cairo today, from the markets, the cuisine, and the culture.
I actually do get a bit claustrophobic and so this caving was really at my limit – but you truly felt like you were in the footsteps of the ancient world. We were getting into spaces and locations that even I as a professor of classics was not aware of.

How are you using virtual reality?

Our laser scanning team takes thousands upon thousands of photos and creates perfect detailed models of entire cities. It’s incredible. The 3D laser scans are also turned into virtual reality worlds that we then explore in the programme. These will be made available for the public to explore themselves through 360 videos that will be going live on the BBC Facebook page after the programmes.

How do you adjust back to London life?

With so many projects on the go every day is different and it’s always exciting wherever I am. We have a two and a half year old daughter and our dog Jasper and I love living near Putney Bridge. Being able to go for a walk or run along the river is great – I love being in a city where you can also be close to the water. The fantastic thing about London is its green spaces and we have lots of parks nearby.

Ancient Invisible Cities is also available on the BBC iPlayer

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