Virtual reality exhibition brings Jerusalems past to life

A joint endeavor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the East Jerusalem Development Corp. Ltd., the center is part of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, which encompasses the Temple Mount excavations, the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley. Established in April 2001 through the generosity of William Davidson of Detroit, the center uses high-tech virtual reconstruction to enable visitors to walk through a Jerusalem no one has seen for 2,000 years, the city of King Herod.

Every year millions visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. They view the remains of the Second Temple period Herodian Street, once Jerusalem's main avenue of commerce, frozen in time at the moment of the Temple's destruction by the Roman Legion in 70 C.E. They move from room to room through a Byzantine residential quarter and explore what is left of four massive palaces built by the Umayyad caliphs of the Early Muslim period.

"Sometimes the stones are just not enough," says Sara Malka, site director of the Archaeological Park and the Davidson Center. "We have succeeded in breathing life into the archaeological finds in the park, by giving visitors the feel and taste of what life was like in those times.."

Developed over two years by the Israel Antiquities Authority and UCLA, the center's virtual tour makes use of sophisticated technology and a super computer to provide a realistically textured, absolutely authentic experience. Its true-to-life details are based on archaeological evidence as well as the writings of historians.

Visitors can walk in the shade of Robinson's Arch, the magnificent arched stairway over the market stalls that led to the Temple Mount. They can roam the streets of the market below the arch, once again populated with merchants, shoppers, rabbis and Roman soldiers. And they can enter up onto the Temple Mount.

The technology enables both a long view of the city as well the ability to zoom in close enough to view the texture of the Herodian stone used to build the Temple Mount. Visitors can also select a specific spot on the virtual tour, open a window and see what that spot looks like today.

An additional high-tech treat is a 10-minute, high-definition digital video film re-enacting a Jewish pilgrimage to the Holy Temple. The center also has a computer room where visitors can surf the archaeological park's Web site — — which contains a vast amount of additional archaeological and historical information.