Virtual reality tour brings biblical-era Jerusalem to life

[A new VR tour in Jerusalem lets viewers “Step into History.” Without using the term; both this story from the AP via the Miami Herald and the one from Breaking Israel News that follows below are filled with descriptions of the presence experience the tour provides visitors. The Tower of David Museum’s website includes a 0:35 minute video also available via YouTube. –Matthew]

[Image: In this Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 photo, released by the Tower of David Museum, a visitor uses goggles on a new virtual reality tour that allows visitors to experience how archaeologists believe Jerusalem looked 2,000 years ago. The museum, which is housed in the Old City’s ancient stronghold, plans to launch the high-tech guided tour in September ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Credit: Tower of David Museum via AP – Tomer Zmora.]

Virtual reality tour brings biblical-era Jerusalem to life

By Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press
September 05, 2018

JERUSALEM – A Jerusalem museum is breathing life into the ancient city with a new virtual reality tour that allows visitors to experience how archaeologists believe Jerusalem looked 2,000 years ago.

The Tower of David Museum, which is housed in the Old City’s ancient stronghold, plans to launch the high-tech guided tour this month ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The virtual reality guide, “Step into History,” offers visitors a chance to “walk in the streets of Jerusalem and enjoy the present and take a look back to the past,” said Tower of David Museum director Eilat Lieber.

Working with archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Lithodomos VR created 360-degree simulations of how Jerusalem’s citadel, palaces, streets and ancient Jewish temple are believed to have appeared during its heyday under King Herod in the first century B.C. and during the life of Jesus.

Herod, a Roman vassal who ruled Judaea from 37-4 B.C., invested heavily in large construction projects across his realm, including a major expansion of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the fortress and palace where the Tower of David stands today. His monuments, including the mountaintop fortress at Masada and the port city of Caesarea, are among the most visited sites in Israel.

“Especially with Jerusalem, I think the biggest challenge was getting it right,” said Simon Young, founder of Lithodomos VR, an Australian startup. “There’s a lot of different opinions about how Jerusalem looked in the ancient world… Of course, we want to do justice to Jerusalem and to make it as accurate as possible.”

Lithodomos VR’s team of archaeologists and artists has produced similar projects in London, Rome, Athens and other cities.

The Tower of David Museum also houses an innovation lab in a chamber at the top of a Herodian-era keep that once served as the chambers of Jerusalem’s Ottoman governor. The lab, launched in October 2017, hosts startups such as Lithodomos VR that are developing technologies to enhance visitor experience, with a particular emphasis on virtual and enhanced reality. The site also holds an elaborate light show that projects moving images in intricate detail on the ancient walls of the Old City.

Accompanied by a guide, visitors will be able explore nine different vantage points in the city, starting at the citadel — an Ottoman-era fortress built atop remnants of several earlier bastions — then meandering through the Old City’s Jewish Quarter down toward the remains of the Second Jewish Temple. In order to keep from crashing into modern Jerusalem, visitors carry the goggles between sites, then put them on once they are stationary.

At each point, a narrator explains the historical significance of the structures they can see in the goggles: the columned marketplace of the Cardo, the heart of the ancient city; the soaring towers of Herod’s citadel; the opulent pools of his pleasure palace; and the temple. The VR tour around the Old City takes approximately two hours, the museum said.

The tour is confined to the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. The Old City lies in east Jerusalem — an area captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital. Israel rejects any division of the Old City — home to Jerusalem’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

Young says the Lithodomos VR team would be interested in adding additional historical layers to the virtual reality guide that would allow people to explore Jerusalem during other periods, such as the Crusades.

Judy Magnusson, an Australian tourist who previewed the tour on Monday ahead of its launch, said the virtual reality-enhanced experience “brings history to life” and makes the stories about the city “more real.”

[From Breaking Israel News; see the original version for two images. –ML]

Step into History – First Virtual Reality Walking Tour in Israel Features Second Temple

By Eliana Rudee
September 4, 2018

Jerusalem’s ancient stories, places and people have come alive with new virtual reality (VR) technology as Israel’s first VR mobile walking tour was launched at the Tower of David on September 3rd.

The tour features reconstructed views of Jerusalem during Second Temple times by Lithodomos VR, partnered with the Tower of David Innovation Lab, launched in October 2017 and funded by a Jerusalem Development Authority investment that aims to grow the city’s tech scene, pilots innovative solutions that enhance the museum experience for visitors.

Starting at the Tower of David museum and ending in the Jewish Quarter, one experiences modern Jerusalem and steps inside breathtaking reconstructions of ancient Jerusalem with a virtual reality headset to better understand what each area looked like over time. The narrated voice accompanying the visuals includes commentary and history about ancient religious life, social classes and commercial activities.

The penultimate stop includes an overall view of the Temple Mount during the Second Temple period, which then zooms into the Temple as one imagines him or herself standing on the Temple Mount in front of the Temple walls with a 360 degree view.

Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum expressed her excitement that with VR technology, visitors can explore the city of today and step into history.

“Visitors are no longer limited by time and space, and every visitor can be immersed in this unique experience,” she said, adding that VR will “fill in the missing pieces” of a traditional museum visit and provide the visitor with a full picture and a deeper understanding of Herod’s Jerusalem.

Tower of David’s goals, she told Breaking Israel News, include engaging the young generation in archaeology and the Bible and understanding one’s past and identity using technology, the language of the 21st century.

“You are a better person if you are laying on your rich history because when Jews, Christians and Muslims see that we share the same source, we will be more likely to accept the other,” she said.

Likewise, Dr. Simon Young, founder, executive archaeologist and content curator of Lithodomos VR told Breaking Israel News, “seeing something in virtual reality creates an immediate sense of empathy.”

He maintained that it can also strengthen one’s connection to religion as “seeing something scientifically proven from biblical stories makes the stories more real by placing them in context.”

“We read about Herod in the bible but don’t picture what he was like. But when we see his home and are there, feeling inside that palace, it becomes more real,” he continued.

Similarly, Lieber asserted, “We know biblical stories are colorful and as historians and curators, our mission is to engage with the Biblical stories just like historical stories – rich with remains”

Thus, the tour sources information from the Bible, archaeologists and modern research to give the visitors the best visual experience together with the original remains.

Tech, Lieber said, is the most engaging tool used to story tell.

“We know the difference between reading a book and watching a movie – people can enjoy both but it’s a different experience,” she explained. But not only is this story entertaining, it’s a “story we can learn from and find our identity as we see history coming back,” said Lieber.

The experience of stepping foot into Temple times is particularly relevant nearing the high holidays, as Jews around the world celebrate Sukkot, a festival in which pilgrims came from all over the world two thousand years ago to lay sacrifices at King Herod’s Temple.

As such, this Sukkot, the tour will run for the general public so people can experience Jerusalem as did the pilgrims millennia ago.

“We hope people coming to Jerusalem and participating in Sukkot will be able to grasp the magnificence of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago,” said Caroline Shapiro, director of international public relations and strategic communications for the Tower of David Museum.

“This is a watershed moment,” she declared, looking forward to exporting this technology to museums worldwide.


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