Revealing the hidden heritage of five European cities


Arts & Culture

Digital Placemaking

A white man, with grey white hair, in his 70's, smiles as he holds a phone and has headphones in as he listens to a Hidden Cities audio guide with the city skyline behind him


Hidden Cities is a project born from six years of creative collaboration with Professor Fabrizio Nevola of the University of Exeter. From the award-winning Hidden Florence app in 2014 to the pioneering Hidden Florence 3D (together with the National Gallery) in 2019, we have enjoyed a sterling partnership.

Calvium brings years of expertise to projects and it's always a pleasure to collaborate with them.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola, University of Exeter

Taking the model, processes, and templates that we have created and improved upon over the years, we are now bringing to life the Hidden Cities suite of apps. By combining augmented reality, digital placemaking and multi-language support, each app will allow people to navigate the streets of Valencia, Exeter, Hamburg, Deventer and Trento, while fictional characters lead them through the forgotten histories of these European cities. 

This immersive experience will let visitors view each place through the lens of our past, enhancing their relationships with each European city.

We have created these interactive experiences using Calvium’s brand-new Place Experience Platform (PEP), which allows the academic community to research, write and produce the stories of their cities – all delivered seamlessly within the Hidden Cities template. 

3 screens show the Hidden Cities app interface with different stages of guides on the different maps

The Challenges

Moving from a single app to a suite of apps is a challenge; we had to build on the proven success of the Hidden Florence app and its use of historic maps and character led narration. So it was necessary to sharpen the production processes so that each academic group could create an equally high quality experience for every city. 

We also added new capabilities such as the ability for users to select languages other than English, so the challenge here was to design for multi-language support for the app’s narrative and features. Multi-language support increases the app’s ability to reach a global user base and potentially invite international visitors to a location, especially since we’re working with six languages: English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Catalan. 

However, this comes at the price of having more technical considerations to investigate, including: how text is displayed; creating a good process for translations; and figuring out the best approach to create an app that functions seamlessly regardless of the chosen language.

Working with academic teams across five different universities is also challenging terms of coordination, establishing shared working practices, and working within grant funded frameworks. As is the cornerstone of our process, collaboration played a huge role in making all this possible.

Close up images of the Hidden Cities app interface showing the historic map, language options and display of audio and story

The Hidden City Experience

With the success of the previous Hidden Florence apps and the new Place Experience Platform used as our springboard, we have now created five new trails for five new cities around Europe: Valencia, Exeter, Hamburg, Deventer and Trento. 

Hidden Cities is available in multiple European languages and when downloaded, the app detects and opens in the default language of the user’s phone. Fictional characters will then lead each user from one location to another within each city, via the app’s location-aware content. When a user arrives at each location, the app triggers the audio and site-specific content to display on the device, relaying each location’s narrative in the user’s language of choice. 

Navigation is done through Google Maps, but users will also see beautiful hand-drawn ancient maps of each city laid over. This is an amazing feature, as the juxtaposition of an ancient map with its interactive digital form creates a powerful connection between the past and the present.

The new Hidden Cities apps are beautifully designed by Calvium - in particular the ability to use ancient maps to navigate your way around a place.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola

Close up image of the maps, showing how the historic map has been overlaid the modern map for a seamless experience

The experience is not exclusive to users who are physically located in these European cities. Through ‘armchair’ mode, users from around the globe can experience the lost history of the five cities remotely, as a virtual tour. 

Results & Ongoing Collaboration

Working with Calvium is always a pleasure. Their collaborative approach ensures that we get the best possible product.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola

This project has just started and we envision a long and collaborative journey across multiple cities, spanning a host of universities. Hidden Cities is about academic research and development in combination with public engagement and education. 

Not only do academics have the opportunity to produce a fully-formed mobile app, they benefit massively from the process of taking their deep subject understanding and translating it into content that is accessible, bite-sized, makes sense in location and enhances a visitor’s experience of a place. The whole experience of creating a location specific trail is a huge learning opportunity for the academic community.

Calvium and the University of Exeter are together providing the Hidden Cities product to any university that wants to engage in the know-how, template, process, and workshop facility to create these wonderful trails for themselves. 

A white man in his 60s with white grey hair, wearing a charcoal grey trench coat, looks up in wonder as he holds his phone while he is on a guided walk of the city provided by the Hidden Cities app

Made possible by the Place Experience Platform

The Hidden Cities experience is built upon Calvium’s bespoke Place Experience Platform (Place Experience App & Place Management System). This visitor experience product + visitor management service attracts people to a destination, guides them around and encourages repeat visits. 

The App is a place assurance companion; creating meaningful, sustainable and valuable visitor experiences. As described earlier, it provides unique content about your destination – combining wayfinding, storytelling and up-to-date information. 

A illustrated graphic showing how the app integrates with a destination's marketing collateral, ensuring a seamless brand experience. The next illustration shows a lady walking with the phone using the app with bespoke storytelling about the destination. The third and final image shows an illustration of the app interface providing real-time information

The Hidden Cities suite of apps are just one design template that can be created on the platform. PEP itself is inspired by Calvium’s experience of digital placemaking innovation with prestigious organisations such as City of London, Battersea Power Station Development Company, National Trust and Bristol City Council.  Adaptable and agile to its core, the Place Experience Platform is designed to support place-based recovery and growth for all towns and cities.

The Place Experience Platform is a new digital product, for Hidden Cities it offers the following:

Modular set of features

PEP involves a modular set of features which—in the case of Hidden Cities—helps academics and place managers produce location-triggered trail apps without starting from scratch. They can use the same framework and process from previously created apps on the platform, then modify these according to their specific needs.

Agile method for updating and testing

Place managers can perform rapid updates. Any new content can be tested immediately in Preview mode. Live content, meanwhile, will be updated in two hours. 

The platform also has tools that allow for testing, which universities and place managers who have used the platform are loving. They can walk around using the app and see what their content looks like. Does the storyline or character work? Are the maps accurate? What are the audio and translations like? This feature is also available for them to use to teach their students.

Bespoke branding and collaboration

Each app will benefit from bespoke branding that is tailored to the visual identity of the place – the Calvium design team will implement this feature for you. In addition, the PEP content management system will also make collaboration possible, as multiple stakeholders can create their app content together. 

Multi-language support

Similar to Hidden Cities, apps created on PEP will have multi-language support both for new and returning users. That means any user who has previously developed an app on the platform can come back and add more features to modify their content, whether that’s adding more languages or creating another trail for a different city.

Place Experience Platform: A Managed Service

The Place experience Platform is a managed service. This allows Calvium to provide annual maintenance and support, so clients are assured that they are not on their own. The managed service helps mitigate against risks to the apps, such as policy changes made by third-party app stores, e.g. Google Play. If a change is required, clients don’t need to worry as Calvium can make appropriate changes to the platform that are then rolled out to all the apps. 

The Place Experience Platform is accessible and easy to use. It enables organisations to tell many stories about their city using a variety of media, and it provides a compelling experience for visitors.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola


The power of mobile technologies to connect people with places in quick and meaningful ways is well known, just look at Google Maps, Pokemon Go or The Lost Palace. Hidden Cities enables university students and staff to create meaningful ways for people to experience a place, using their everyday digital devices.

The Place Experience Platform has enabled five European cities to reveal their heritage through the insights of the academic community; bringing understanding usually concealed in academic journals to public spaces,  and in so doing, sharing those stories for the benefit of everyone.

If you are interested in becoming part of the Hidden Cities community, or you wish to find out more about the Place Experience Platform and how it can add value to your destination, then please schedule a consultation with us today. 

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