Millennium Cities: Virtual journey from Palmyra to Mosul

Today threatened, damaged, looted or destroyed, four major sites, some of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Palmyra and Aleppo (Syria), Mosul (Iraq) and Leptis Magna (Libya) - will be unveiled and reborn in a spectacular immersive setting at the Arab World Institute from 10 October 2018. Thanks to the most advanced digitization technologies, the exhibition offers visitors a journey to the heart of the architectural wealth of the cities of Mosul and Aleppo as well as the prestigious archaeological sites of Palmyra and Leptis Magna, symbols of the World Heritage of Humanity and the multicultural history of the civilizations of the Near East.
Che exhibition, designed in collaboration with the startup Iconem, in partnership with UNESCO and Ubisoft, the world leader in entertainment, combines giant projections, some of which are 360°; virtual reality experiments; documents and archive images; but also videos and testimonies from the local population. By bringing these millennial cities back to life through the magic of digital technology, the Arab World Institute aims to raise awareness among the widest possible audience of the crucial issues involved in preserving and rehabilitating heritage.

A digital journey to the heart of millennial cities  

Through giant projections, the exhibition offers the visitor the opportunity to discover the current state of the sites, but also to go back in time through a virtual reconstruction in very high definition of buildings, dwellings or archaeological remains. The visitor thus has the sensation of wandering through these sites as if he were there. In each space, the visitor also has access to information, testimonies and texts that enable him to understand the millenary history of these cities and the torments of their recent past. Particular emphasis is placed on the words of those who have worked tirelessly to protect these architectural treasures and places of life.
The IMA has partnered for the implementation of this unique exhibition with the startup Iconem, a pioneer in the digitization of heritage and whose work of precise surveys of archaeological sites (thanks, in particular, to the use of drones) makes it possible to produce extremely accurate virtual 3D reconstructions. For the exhibition, a large majority of the images presented, videos and 3D treatments are made from the material produced by Iconem. State-of-the-art technology is put at the service of specialists and archaeologists, but also of the public, who can thus experience the reality of these thousand-year-old cities in a sensitive way.

An exceptional universal heritage that must be protected  

The protection of heritage in these sensitive sites is of major importance: it is a question of preserving a unique architectural and archaeological wealth, but also of evoking these cities as places to live, whose resilience commands admiration. The choice of the four cities - Palmyra, Aleppo, Mosul, Leptis Magna - allows us to plunge into the heart of brilliant civilizations (Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, etc.), and to become aware of their diversity. It also makes it possible to describe very different contemporary geopolitical contexts.
- PALMYRE Palmyra: nicknamed the "Pearl of the Desert", Palmyra is one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. The heavy destruction perpetrated there by Daech was widely publicized in the media. The rehabilitation of this mythical Greco-Roman site through digital technologies allows the visitor to become aware of its extraordinary beauty, in particular the temple of Baalshamîn, but also the funerary towers and the hypogeum, known as the "Tomb of the Three Brothers".
3D image of the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, Syria, mission of April 2017 © Iconem/DGAM

- ALEP Aleppo: Considered one of the most important cities in the region culturally and economically, Aleppo bears the imprint of the succession of Muslim empires, from the Umayyads to the Ottomans, and is home to some of the finest jewels of architecture. Its souks, but also its great mosque, are at the heart of a wander to discover not an archaeological site but an entire urban area, with an unequalled heritage.
- MOSSOUL Mosul: the capital of the province of Nineveh, north of Baghdad, Mosul is a historically multi-faith city, where Muslims, Christians, Yezidi and Jews meet. This intermingling of populations and religions has produced a formidable architectural wealth throughout the city. The visitor can travel through the old city, discovering the great al-Nouri mosque with its leaning minaret or the tomb of the Prophet Jonah: a journey through this millennial city taken over by the Islamic state in 2017.
I3D mage of the Leptis Magna theater, Libya, February 2018 mission © FDD Iconem / MAFL / DOA

- LEPTIS MAGNA Leptis Magna: nicknamed "the African Rome", Leptis Magna is the only one of the four sites chosen that has not been destroyed despite the conflict that has shaken Libya since 2011. This ancient Roman city among the best preserved, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains exceptional architectural remains: temples, basilicas, forum, amphitheatre, thermal baths...
The exhibition is conceived as a manifesto for the defence of these extraordinary cities, and more generally for the preservation of heritage around the world. To the threats to these sites, we contrast the beauty of a magical journey into their heart. To the destruction, we respond with digital rebirths, as messages of hope for the resurrection of these thousand-year-old cities.
Virtual Reality Experiment The IMA is partnering with Ubisoft, France's leading video game publisher, using data from Iconem to offer the public a series of original virtual reality experiences that provide realistic and sensitive immersion. Visitors wearing a helmet find themselves inside six emblematic monuments of the sites previously discovered along the route. Within a perimeter of 9m², he can look around, raise his head and move forward to better appreciate the setting of these buildings.

Around the exhibition

- On October 11, 2018, a forum on endangered heritageThe meeting was chaired by Jean-Luc Martinez, Chairman and Director of the Louvre Museum and Chairman of the ALIPH Scientific Committee.
- Meetings, debates, film screenings.
- Creative workshops for children.
Exhibition organized in collaboration with Iconem, in partnership with UNESCO and Ubisoft, and with the support of the University of Lausanne and l'Œuvre d'Orient.
Exhibition curatorship : Aurélie Clemente-Ruiz, General Curator, Director of Exhibitions at the IMA. Nala Aloudat, Exhibition Manager at the IMA.
Exhibition from October 10, 2018 to February 10, 2019- Institut du Monde arabe - 1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard - 75005 Paris
To go further:
- Book" "Palmyra, the irreplaceable treasure." by Paul Veyne - Edition Albin Michel, 2015

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