As of August, 2015, now even the ruins of the 2000-year old Temple of Bel belong only in the past tense. What remained of the ancient temple stood in Palmyra, Syria, until the revered cultural relic — first a Mesopotamian temple, then a Byzantine church, then a mosque — was demolished by the Islamic State. Indeed, it’s now all a matter of the past except for a few surviving pieces — one of which is an arch that stands 15 meters high. And as the Telegraph reports, replicas of that one large piece of the structure will be making their way to New York’s Times Square and London’s Trafalgar Square in April 2016 for UNESCO’s World Heritage Week; the replicas are being constructed using the world’s largest 3D printer.
The project is a joint effort carried out by Harvard University, the University of Oxford, and Dubai’s Museum of the Future, who are reconstructing the arch using of thousands of photographs in what The Guardian calls “a gesture of defiance against religious extremists’ attempts to erase evidence of the Middle East’s pre-Islamic history.”
The Institute for Digital Archaeology has also teamed up with Unesco to pass out 3D cameras to volunteers who can capture other relics situated in conflict zones; the Temple, however, was destroyed before such technology was used to document it, but 3D approximations have been made through the combining of thousands of 2D photos. The executive director of IDA told The Guardian:
It is really a political statement, a call to action, to draw attention to what is happening in Syria and Iraq and now Libya. 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.
Alexy Karenowska, the director of technology at the institute, acknowledges that people might fear that there’s a risk in erecting these pregnant symbols in the middle of similarly iconic — and extremely trafficked — squares. She told the journal:
A building like the National Gallery or Trafalgar Square, these are major targets by virtue of what they are… Simply by placing a thought-provoking piece of art in one of those spaces, the level of heightened risk is very limited.
The Temple of Bel was reported to have been destroyed on August 30, 2015. The Islamic State also murdered the 82 year old archaeologist who’d been in Palmyra for four decades, and displayed his corpse onsite. After some initially questioned whether the whole temple had been razed — and even thought that much of its basic structure remained — the United Nations released satellite photos revealing the overwhelming extent of the destruction.