It has been a terrible year for the destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East. By September, the United Nations confirmed that militant group Islamic State (Isis) had razed two ancient temples, the Temple of Bel and the Baal Shamin temple, in the Syrian city of Palmyra.
As 2015 draws to a close, the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) has announced exciting plans which offer a glimmer of hope in the wake of the devastation. The IDA is to erect a replica of the entrance to the Temple of Bel, one of the few surviving parts of the 2,000 year old structure, in New York and London in April 2016.
The recreation and display of the 15m tall Palmyra arch in Trafalgar Square and Times Square is being timed to coincide with World Heritage Week. Images captured by volunteer photographers in the Middle East will be used to replicate the arch through a combination of 3D printing computer- controlled machining techniques.
The IDA in collaboration with UNESCO began distributing 3D cameras to volunteers in conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa earlier this year to photograph threatened heritage sites. The images are being uploaded to the Institute’s “Million Image Database” for use in research, 3D replication, heritage appreciation and educational programmes.
Isis-led destruction of Middle-Eastern heritage sites has sparked international outrage and prompted world leaders to devise innovative new measures to safeguard ancient artefacts. In November this year, French President Francois Hollande announced that the French Parliament would consider a new law introducing a ‘right to asylum’ for endangered works of art.
With the conflict in Syria ongoing, it is hoped the Palmyra replica will draw worldwide attention to the plight of antiquities in the Middle East and the importance of ensuring the survival of its heritage sites:
“It is really a political statement, a call to action, to draw attention to what is happening in Syria and Iraq and now Libya. We are saying to them if you destroy something we can rebuild it again,” IDA Executive Director Roger Michel told The Times on Monday (28 December).
Pieces of the replica arch will be made offsite in Shanghai and Italy and assembled in one day in Trafalgar Square and Times Square. It will remain in place in Trafalgar Square for a week although London Mayor Boris Johnson is thought to have suggested that it should become a permanent fixture.