Virtual environments are effective tools for the representation and communication of cultural heritage. We suggest that an interactive, immersive and dynamic navigation of the virtual representation of the urban environment will not only convey the essence of the culture and the changes it underwent in a more comprehensible manner, but will engender a 'sense of place'—genius loci— in the visitors. This cognitive mode will help them learn about much more than the geometry and materiality of the city: it will make them 'feel' part of the event itself. By presenting a socially shareable experience, we aim to introduce the medium the character of a genuine place, and make it a social venue for active exploration, discussion and interaction.

Virtual reality surpasses both traditional media and 3D-models and offers what they cannot. The affordances of the medium, however, also have the potential to destroy the sense of place it strives to engender. It can do so by allowing a kind of ‘time travel,’ to different periods in the history of the site. This ability locates visitors not only spatially, but also temporally. Everyday experience helps us understand the meaning of spatial boundedness, but does not prepare us to deal with temporal boundedness: sensing the presence of fellow visitors at different times. In this paper we describe our experiences in producing spatio-temporally navigable virtual reconstructions of two distinct culturally significant historic sites: the neolithic village of Çatalhöyük, and the medieval city of Cairo. We demonstrate the use of spatio-temporal navigation through a dynamic, chronologically layered model that can be browsed by multiple users at the same time. Such a dynamic system for representing chronological architectural events requires the extension of our conception of place into the temporal domain. We introduce a new concept, temporal field of view (t-FOV) and discuss how it can aid us in resolving an intrinsic challenge introduced by the representation of the temporal dimension in virtual environments.