In August, Islamic State militants destroyed most of the Temple of Bel in Syria, an ancient gateway that connected the Roman Empire to Persia. The 2,000-year-old temple had previously been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO, and that honor is perhaps part of the reason members of the group decided to blow it up. Now, as a symbolic gesture of remembrance and solidarity, the surviving arch will be recreated by the world’s largest 3D printer and the duplicate models will be erected in London’s Trafalgar Square and New York City’s Times Square.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or IS) group captured the Temple of Bel in May, and issued a statement with images of ancient religious sites and a promise that the group “will not destroy them.” That turned out to be untrue. Widely recognized as one of the most important religious sites of the first century, the temple became the second of two in Syria that ISIL destroyed earlier this summer. In late August, the group released photos showing the destroyed temple, and the extent of the damage was later confirmed through satellite imagery. It’s understood that militants filled the temple with explosive-filled barrels, lining the interior of the ancient structure with blue sentinels of destruction. The smoke from the blast could be seen for miles, and all that remained of the ancient temple was a single arch, standing 50 feet tall but isolated in the rubble.
Recreating the surviving arch on other continents will be the work of the Institute of Digital Archaeology. Alexy Karenowska of the Institute explains that preserving cultural heritage is nearly as important as protecting human lives. “Of course all of this stuff takes second place to human life,” she said, “but these cultural objects are very important to give a sense of place and community.”
The Institute, a joint venture between Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future, is working to supply volunteers with special 3D cameras to document at-risk cultural sites throughout the Middle East and North Africa. For this project, designers have to rely on photographs to create a 3D-printed version of the 50-foot arch will be created using historical photographs. Parts will be printed in Shanghai, and then taken to Italy to be finished, then shipped to Britain and New York. Each arch will be assembled, like a LEGO set, in under a day. The identical replica Palmyra arches will be on display in both cities for World Heritage Week in April 2016.