Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
And in New York, too.
When the Islamic State blew up the nearly 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, last summer, one could be forgiven for thinking the world would never see the building’s façade ever again.
But the structure’s 50-foot arch survived—and this April, it’s coming to England. Thanks to 3D printing, a reproduction will be installed in London’s heavily-trafficked Trafalgar Square.
The copy comes via the Institute for Digital Archaeology’s Million Image Project. It is a collaboration between UNESCO and the IDA, which is a partnership between Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future. The project has armed a number of volunteer photographers with lightweight, high-quality 3D cameras and charged them with scanning important, threatened sites across the Middle East and North Africa.
Though the Temple of Bel was destroyed before photographers could get it into IDA’s database, researchers were able to reproduce part of the ancient building with help from thousands of two-dimensional images.
The arch will be printed in segments and then assembled at two display sites—Trafalgar Square and a to-be-determined setting in New York—as part of a larger IDA celebration of World Heritage Week.
“The aim of the proposed installation on Trafalgar Square is to draw international attention to the global crisis surrounding the looting and destruction of cultural heritage objects,” Alexy Karenowska, IDA’s director of technology, writes in an email.
Beyond that, though, she says the organization hopes the installation celebrates the beauty “and significance of these objects to the everyday lives of modern people.”
The gesture is particularly poignant for this temple, which was used throughout the centuries by Mesopotamians, Christians, and finally Muslims as a place of worship. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, Palmyra sat the crossroads of Greco-Roman and Arab cultures, and produced distinctively beautiful art and architecture. Before it was destroyed, the Temple of Bel was regarded as one of the best-preserved remains of the era.