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Creating an Escape Room in a Heritage Site

Escape rooms have been a popular trend in recent years. One museum in Italy has taken advantage of this by providing a unique escape room experience. The Italian town of Fermo sits on top of a well-preserved example of Roman engineering and ingenuity; a network of Roman water tanks. In 2017, the Sistema Museo created a new type of cultural escape room inside this fascinating archaeological site.

The cisterns were built by Emperor Augustus in the 1st Century AD. The purpose of them was to provide drinking water to the Roman colony of Firmum Picenum, on the Adriatic coast. Despite being around 2000 years old, the site is still in excellent condition. Today all 30 rooms are open to visitors and are perfectly preserved. To attract a new audience, the Sistema Museum partnered with the town of Fermo to create an escape room like no other. For those interested in the gamification of museums, it is a fascinating example.

The escape room with a story to tell

A cultural escape room such as this has the advantage of having an authentic ambience. Many escape rooms work hard to create a particular theme or feeling. Players in this game are immediately transported to the past, as they are surrounded by genuine history. This site is also a lot bigger than many escape rooms. All 30 rooms of the complex are included. This gave the museum a chance to create an experience on a large scale.

This escape room focuses on both story and culture. The game’s solutions include historical enigmas and ancient legends. While taking part, visitors learn more about the Roman era as they explore the walls surrounding them.

Participant in the escape room game

Preserving the archaeological area

Designing an escape room in an archaeological area requires a delicate balancing act. The creator of the experience worked to ensure that the site is still preserved and respected. But it was also important to create a game that is fun and not too restrictive. This game has two actors inside the rooms together with the players. They are there to make sure the game runs smoothly, but also to protect the site.

Why create a cultural escape room?

The Roman cisterns of Fermo are unique and easy to access. However, they were often overlooked by the classical guided tours in the town. The museum felt that it needed to do something to put the cisterns on the map and to attract a younger audience. This new idea helped to encourage more people to visit. Many players gave positive feedback on the site after playing the escape room game, particularly those who were not previously aware of the Roman cisterns.

Two guests playing the escape room game

Promoting a cultural escape room

With only a small budget, the museum used a clever tactic to promote the experience. Bloggers and social media influencers were invited to come and take part after the opening. They were able to take lots of pictures, write reviews and tell their followers all about the escape room. This started a chain reaction of people booking slots and generating more word-of-mouth sales.

Eliana Ameli is the creator of the Roman cistern escape room. She wanted to design a game that could lead the players into a combined historical multi-solution. She said, “More than ever, today museums are perceived by youngsters as “boring places” without any appeal. We wanted to stop this perception not losing the main purpose of the Art’s museums and archaeological areas: preserve and spread the meanings of the past. That’s why we don’t look at the game itself as an enemy but as an ally that can help us to do our job: communicate the culture.”

You can see a brief virtual tour of the Roman cisterns here.


About the author – Vissia Lucarelli

Vissia Lucarelli is an art historian and tourist guide, she has been working at the Fermo Museums since 2005 and collaborates with Sistema Museo, a cooperative created for the enhancement and management of cultural heritage throughout the national territory.

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