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Lost Jerusalem neighbourhood recreated in 3D app

Economics

People will be able to stroll virtually through the streets of the Mughrabi quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, thanks to a new mobile application.

The Moroccan quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City was located at the foot of the Western Wall and now serves as a plaza in front of one of Judaism’s most sacred sites.

Virtual tourists and residents will soon be able to walk around the streets of the neighbourhood – half a decade after it was destroyed by Israeli authorities – through a 3D version of the city accessible through a mobile app.

Founded in 1187 by Saladin during the age of the Crusades, and once a place of settlement for Muslim pilgrims from North Africa, the Mughrabi quarter was demolished after Israeli forces captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.


Mughrabi Quarters destruction plan

Mughrabi Quarters destruction plan / Israel State Archives GL – 3847/4

Image credit: Israel State Archives GL – 3847/4

In January 2023, excavations by Israeli archaeologists unearthed remains of the neighbourhood, but experts were concerned about the fate of the ruins, which were buried soon after their discovery.

French historian Vincent Lemire, working with Italy’s University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, developed a mobile app which will enable people to stroll through each of the neighbourhoods’ alleys without damaging the remains.

The application’s designers said it “allows users an immersive experience across the streets, mosques, schools and courtyards of the Mughrabi quarter”.

Speaking to AFP (Agence France-Presse, the news agency), Lemire said: “I think 99 per cent of visitors who are in front of the Western Wall know nothing of this history”.


Vue Générale de la Mosquée d'Omar, Robertson, Beato & Co., 1857

Vue Générale de la Mosquée d’Omar, Robertson, Beato & Co., 1857 / National Science and Society Picture Library

Image credit: National Science and Society Picture Library

The project has been designed as a way of making the history of the neighbourhood more accessible to people. In the researchers’ opinions, 3D technology makes it possible to reach a wider audience than in academic writing.

In a press conference to launch the application, Ashraf al-Jandoubi al-Mughrabi, a descendent of Tunisian residents of the quarter, said: “We will never forget our belonging to this district.”

Lemire said the quarter was “very representative of the open history of Jerusalem that we are trying to promote, which bears little resemblance to the current Jerusalem which has turned into a very simplistic and crude battlefield between two camps”.

Lemire described this state of affairs as a dichotomy which, he said, “crushes all the other plural and diverse stories of Jerusalem.”

The 3D modelling of the Mughrabi quarter is part of a larger project called ‘Open Jerusalem’, which has brought together some 60 researchers who have collated and this week put online an archive of approximately 40,000 documents in 12 languages on the history of Jerusalem.

E&T‘s latest issue, ‘On the Indy Trail’, looks at how technology can be leveraged to better understand and protect our material cultural heritage.

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