I am happy to announce the opening of an ultra modern visitors’ center at the southern wall archaeological park in Jerusalem. For the first time in
2000 years visitors to Jerusalem can walk through the gates and enter the courtyards of the Jewish Temple. They are also able to see what these magnificent buildings were like before they were destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. All, of course, on a virtual model.
The Temple’s period is presented mostly on computer screens, but the center itself is located in an historical building – the basement of an Umayyad palace from the 8thcentury CE.
And the center holds also a modest display of artifacts from the different periods recorded in the excavations in this area – from Biblical times; Roman period; Byzantine period; and Muslim times.
The whole project was made possible by the sponsorship of Ethan and Miriam Davidson.
Ethan Davidson is a big fan of high tech, and so the place is packed with innovative audio visual aids. Near the entrance, a wide screen video shows a short film in various languages about the history of research at the site. Next to it various artifacts on display echo the nature of every period recorded at the site. Above every alcove a matching musical tones are heard.
On the next floor a high definition movie presents the site as it looked 2000 years ago, when Jewish pilgrims gathered here to bring sacrifices and gifts at the Temple. A guide appears in the movie dressed both in modern dress and in the garb of a pilgrim in ancient times. Before leaving, one can check the computer stations that present the web site of the place, the only thing you can also do from your home (www.archpark.org.il). But the biggest attraction is the lowest room. Groups can participate in a computerized virtual model of the site as it looked 2000 years ago. The interactive model enables the visitor to walk on the streets where sacrificial doves were sold; take a ritual purification bath in a nearby “mikveh”; enter the Temple through the double gate, and gaze at the temple and the stoas around it. The computer animation moves at walking speed and the view can be turned at will to see the amazingly life-like recreations of what the temple looked like in ancient times. With the roll of a mouse, modern visitors can walk through the royal stoa, look up at the brilliant frescoed ceilings, examine artifacts found on site, and interact with the people and their animals in the courtyard.
Developed by computer scientists from the University of California at the Los Angeles Department of Urban Simulation, and using super-computers, far larger and faster than your average PC, the computer program enable you to actually experience a visit to the Temple. One of the first groups to experience the virtual model was the 2001 Archaeological Diggings Middle East tour group, whom I happily guided at the site.