Virtual reality revives Iraq’s war-ravaged heritage

Virtual reality revives Iraq’s war-ravaged heritage

Virtual reality revives Iraq’s war-ravaged heritage

An Iraqi museum is using computer technology and virtual reality headsets to turn back time, so visitors can explore heritage sites destroyed by jihadists and in battles to defeat them.

The ISIL captured a third of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, seizing the northern city of Mosul as their stronghold and vandalizing or destroying a swathe of cultural sites across the country.

Now, using thousands of photographs, a group of local engineers have given a virtual rebirth to five historic sites in Mosul and the broader Nineveh province, including a mosque and its leaning minaret.

VR technology has been used before to recreate the heritage destroyed by the ISIL group, including a UNESCO-backed exhibit in the United States.

But this museum brings sites back to life for the people who live in Mosul.

“Many children have never seen the Al-Nuri mosque and its Al-Hadba minaret,” 29-year-old Ayoub Younes, the museum’s founder. “We try, through virtual reality, to let the person experience visiting those sites and retrieve those memories.”

The private museum with a marble facade, sitting along the Tigris river, opened in mid-June and saw more than 4,000 visitors in its first month, Younes said.

In a sombre room, curious visitors wait to use the museum’s sole VR headset, a pair of large black goggles.

Other sites on the virtual visit are the historic Al-Tahera church, tucked among the once meandering alleyways of the Old City, and the more than 2,000 year old Hatra archaeological site in the desert south of Mosul.

On his computer screen, Abdullah Bashir showed a 3D replica of the mosque housing the Nabi Yunus shrine, revered by both Muslims and Christians as the tomb of Prophet Jonah, which the extremists blew up in 2014.

“We used personal photos and shots taken by residents” to reconstruct the sites in their former state, he said.

But he said there were “very few” images before 2014, citing the “lack of photos” as the main difficulty.