The Tower of David Museum and its new Innovation Lab recently launched new tours of Jerusalem, taking visitors and residents on a journey to experience the city as it may have been some 2,000 years ago.
The museum, housed in Jerusalem’s Old City, teamed up with Australia’s Lithodomos VR, a virtual reality startup founded in 2016 by archeologists and artists, to produce the first mobile virtual reality (VR) walking tour in Israel’s capital, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in another time period through the use of 3D virtual reality.
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Jerusalem’s “Step into History” tours are offered in English and Hebrew and last between 2.5 to 3 hours, starting at the Tower of David, winding down from the ancient fortress through the Old City to the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, the Jewish Quarter and the Cardo, an ancient street dating back to the Roman Empire.
Visitors rent a Samsung Gear VR headset, which comes a Samsung Galaxy 7 powered by Oculus software and personal earphones, for the experience.
The aim is to “show Jerusalem today and at the time of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago during the time of King Herod,” the museum says.
Lithodomos, which specializes in recreating the ancient world for tourism, education, and entertainment purposes, said in a statement that the Jerusalem tour has been designed “with the tourist in mind” and “has been built from the ground up through visits by archaeologists, the taking of GPS points, close coordination and cooperation of art, technology and science.”
“Certainly the grandest building period in Jerusalem’s history is that which took place during the reign of King Herod,” said Eilat Lieber, Director of the Tower of David Museum. “From the Second Temple to the Antonia Fortress, from the hippodrome to the theater, the public monuments, the markets and the streets, Herod’s Jerusalem was one of the greatest cities of antiquity. Over 2,000 years later, Herod’s building is still an integral part of the city with many stones visible.”
Lieber added that “the best view of Jerusalem is still from the top of King Herod’s tower built at the Tower of David Museum,” but, until now, “it took a distinguishing eye and a creative mind to really imagine the city that was.”
The tour is comprised of a series of viewpoints which are linked together by a strong narrative that allows visitors to explore and experience different aspects of social life in ancient Jerusalem, including religious life, social classes and commercial activities, according to the museum.
Lithodomos’ Dr. Simon Young, a Greek and Roman architectural historian who headed the project, worked with a number of Australian and Israeli archeologists including Amit Re’em, Chief Archaeologist of the Jerusalem District at the Israel Antiquities Authority, to stitch together 360-degree simulations, or 3D imaging, of historical scenes.
Lithodomos, which produces similar tours in world capitals across the globe including Rome, Paris, and London, said the Israel project was different.
“People go to London or Rome, and there are a great many things to see and do and experience. And whilst the same can be said about Israel, the small parcel of land that is Jerusalem is the single most written about, argued about, and pored over piece of land in the world. Thus, our work needs to be sensitive to history and ensure that our work is inclusive and not polarizing,” Tony Simmons, CEO and co-founder of Lithodomos, said in a statement.
Simmons praised the Tower of David Museum and the ToD Innovation Lab as “world leading, innovative, and technologically progressive” initiatives working “to achieve our shared vision; using cutting edge technology to produce an incredible visitor experience.”
The innovation lab was launched in October 2017 as a center/accelerator to support companies working in the sphere of AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality), MR (Mixed Reality), and 360 technology, in their development of unique tech solutions catering to the museum’s visitor experience.
The tour, in partnership with Lithodomos VR, is the first product to be launched out of the ToD Innovation Lab.
Itzik Ozer, head of business development at The Jerusalem Development Authority, said Jerusalem was in the midst of an innovation and cultural renaissance, and the lab “reflects the fusion of both, taking one of the city’s most well-known cultural landmarks and creating an innovation hub that will enable tech companies to leverage its domain expertise.”
Ozer added that the Jerusalem Development Authority, together with The Jerusalem Ministry and Heritage were planning to invest $100 million over the next five years to drive the “growth momentum” of the city’s tech scene.
“The ToD Innovation Lab is one of the most exciting projects we are proud to support and partner with and we can’t wait to see the unique ideas that will grow out of this platform,” he said.
The Step into History tours will be open to the public during the Jewish festival of Sukkot later this month. Tickets are NIS 100 ($27) per person.