In the year AD 32, the people of Palmyra, Syria began constructing a temple that would be consecrated to the Semitic god Bel and become the epicenter of the city’s religious life. The Temple of Bel would later become converted into a Christian church during the Byzantine era, and later into a mosque upon the arrival of Islam in the area. It stood for nearly 2,000 years, one of the best preserved ancient structures in Palmyra — until August 2015, when it was destroyed by ISIS. A millenia-old monument, brought down in seconds by a terrorist group intent on destroying all evidence of life before Islam.
The destruction of the temple was only the latest blow to Palmyra, which had been mostly razed by ISIS over the past year. All that remained of the Temple of Bel was an archway that marked its entrance. Such a loss is devastating, but a group of archaeologists are determined to show ISIS that they have not won. The Institute for Digital Archaeology, a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the Museum of the Future, began distributing 3D cameras to volunteers around the Middle East and Africa earlier this year, with the goal of gathering images of threatened monuments in case they were destroyed. The Temple of Bel was brought down before it could be captured by the Million Image Database Project, but enough two-dimensional images exist that 3D renderings of the temple can be made.
Using those renderings, the IDA will create a 3D model of the temple’s remaining arch, which will then be 3D printed and assembled in London’s Trafalgar Square and New York City’s Times Square as an act of solidarity with Syria and defiance of ISIS.
“It is really a political statement, a call to action, to draw attention to what is happening in Syria and Iraq and now Libya,” said Roger Michel, executive director of the IDA. “We are saying to them if you destroy something we can rebuild it again. The symbolic value of these sites is enormous, we are restoring dignity to people.”
The IDA hopes that the 3D printed reconstructions in New York and London will also draw attention to the temple’s impact on architecture not just in Palmyra, but all across Europe. The Temple of Bel’s style influenced a lot of the architecture of the Roman Empire, spreading the style throughout Europe. According to IDA technical director Alexy Karenowska, the rest of the world needs to be reminded that the loss of such an important artifact is a loss for the world, not just for Syria.
“We tend to think about cultural heritage in a somewhat parochial way,” Karenowska said. “We also think of other people’s cultural heritage as being something that’s particular to them. We see that very much with the Middle East. People in the west find it very easy to say that the Middle East have this great cultural heritage and this problem is something that’s happening to them. The idea is to underline that cultural heritage is something that’s shared between people. It’s about people’s roots and it’s important to recognise also that this is something that as humans we do all understand on some deep level.”
The replicas are set to be erected as part of a World Heritage Week in April. The despair that ISIS leaves in its wake is pervasive, but projects such as this one and Project Mosul send a powerful symbolic message that all is not lost, not completely. Nothing can replace the lives lost through terrorist attacks, but the reconstruction of shattered monuments hopefully shows ISIS that despite its best efforts, it cannot fully stamp out the culture and history of the people it seeks to destroy. Discuss this remarkable story in the 3D Printing to Combat ISIS forum on 3DPB.com.[Source: The Guardian]