With so much travel locked down during the pandemic, virtual experiences are gaining in popularity but what sets “Baalbek Reborn” apart from the others is that it lets you travel back in time.
Launched last week, the free virtual reality app allows users to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Baalbek in Lebanon which has a rich history that goes back to 8,000 BC. The famous temple complex, known as Heliopolis in ancient times, is one of the largest Roman religious sites in the world and its remaining six pillars of the Temple of Jupiter are now a landmark of Lebanon.
The virtual production that brings this site to life is a collaboration between Flyover Zone Productions (which creates virtual tours of cultural heritage sites), the German Archaeological Institute (which provided the scientific oversight and content), and the Ministry of Culture – Directorate General of Antiquities, Lebanon (which is responsible for the protection, promotion, and excavation activities in the country’s national heritage sites).
Not only does “Baalbek Reborn” let you explore the ruins as they stand today, but includes reconstructed views of what this spectacular Roman city would have looked like at its peak in 215 AD.
“What’s fascinating about Baalbek is not only the Roman temples, but also its almost 10,000-year history,” said Margarete van Ess, director of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute and longstanding head of scientific research in Baalbek.
“As an archaeologist, finds and research results give me images in my mind of what this special place looked like at that time. It’s fantastic that the temples are now given shape in the app and can be viewed by people all over the world!,” she said in a press release announcing “Baalbek Reborn.”
There is extensive audio narration throughout the app which teaches visitors about the site’s history and why it was so important to the Romans. Better yet, the VR tour lets you access spaces that are normally off-limits to visitors in the real world, which gives you an even better appreciation as to why this is one of the world’s more impressive ancient sites.
The app can be experienced on a number of platforms, including smartphones, desktop computers, and Oculus — all for free — thanks to the generosity of Bassam Alghanim who sponsored “Baalbek Reborn” in honour of his parents, Yusuf and Ilham Alghanim, who used to take him there when he was a child.
I installed it on my Windows computer through Steam and it ran flawlessly. As a fan of ancient Roman history, I’ve been to several important ruins and was enthralled by this virtual experience that let me explore the Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus, the Temple of Bacchus, the Temple of Venus and the Temple of the Muses. I would heartily endorse it to anyone with an interest in ancient history and anyone looking for a way to travel beyond their pandemic cloister, if even in their imaginations.
“We hope that thousands of people around the world will download the virtual tour and use it to whet their appetite to visit the site when the COVID-19 pandemic passes, and international travel is possible again,” said Bernard Frischer, founder and president of Flyover Zone in a release.
Visit flyoverzone.org to learn more.