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Virtual reality is reconstructing destroyed landmarks in Iraq

The project has seen five heritage landmarks be fully restored within VR and offers residents the chance to view each building as it once was

The Mosul Heritage Museum in Iraq is using virtual reality technology to enable visitors to visit historical sites that have seen destruction in the real world.

Using photo comparisons, five damaged or destroyed historical sites in Mosul have been recreated in the virtual world. These sites all saw destruction during the three years that ISIS occupied the area but can now be witnessed back in their full form.

Speaking with the national news, Abdullah Bashar gave details on how the idea came to be and explained that he saw the turmoil caused by ISIS and some years later took up studying architecture. Bashar then had the idea to use virtual reality to restore what was once lost.

Bashar stated, “We were studying the heritage of our city and how it used to be. I thought then about virtual reality and what a creative way it could be to show these destroyed sites and our heritage to the people.” 

Rebuilding in the virtual world

Despite efforts from the government to reconstruct the Al Nuri mosque, which had been destroyed in 2017, Bashar, along with two of his peers, decided to virtually rebuild the historical landmark. Upon showcasing this work to Qaf Lab — an innovation hub in Mosul — the company was instantly impressed with what was presented and hired Bashar to continue his work. The resulting outcome saw another four heritage sites added to the recreation list which is now the very exhibition on show at the Mosul Heritage Museum. 

The founder of the museum, Ayoub Younes commented that the project was a perfect fit for the Museum, “ “This exhibition is aligned with the three goals of the museum, The first, is to bring to life the intellectual legacy of this city. The second is to revitalise the tourism industry. And third, to work on initiatives we hope will preserve the legacy of this civilisation.” 

Each of the five sites in VR shows the current state of these landmarks and also their fully reconstructed version which restores their design to what they looked like before being damaged or destroyed.

Preserving history

The sites that have been restored are the Al Nuri mosque, the Umayyad Mosque, the Syriac Catholic Al Tahera Church, and the Al Nabi Yunus Mosque. These recreations serve as emotional reminders for residents but also provide awareness and education regarding the city’s heritage, by utilising the power of VR not all has been completely lost. 

The left shows Al Nabi Yunus in its current state, and the right features the building within the virtual reality world

Younes commented that “The reactions from many visitors have been positive. Not only because this is something new but also because visitors can also experience entering ancient heritage sites that have since been destroyed.” 

Ensuring that each of these restorations was accurate to their real-life counterpart was one of the main focuses and challenges Bashar faced. While Bashar had photos, blueprints, and some drone footage at his disposal, further documentation of the building was needed to ensure an accurate portrayal was built inside the virtual world. Images and videos were sourced from members of the public and after hundreds of personal documents were added to the resources the team already had, a historically accurate reconstruction was able to be created. 

These amazing recreations of historical landmarks once thought lost, showcase the range that VR technology has to offer, and for many these sites may never be seen in their full glory again in the real world. However, in the virtual world, they stand as tall as the day they were first built.

Written By

Paige Cook is a writer with a multi-media background. She has experience covering video games and technology and also has freelance experience in video editing, graphic design, and photography. Paige is a massive fan of the movie industry and loves a good TV show, if she is not watching something interesting then she's probably playing video games or buried in a good book. Her latest addiction is virtual photography and currently spends far too much time taking pretty pictures in games rather than actually finishing them.

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