An 11-foot tall projection of the temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria, covers the wall of Smithsonian Gallery in DC, while viewers wear virtual reality headsets to literally walk through its ruins.  

Age Old Cities: A Virtual Journey from Palmyra to Mosul takes viewers through the ancient Syrian cities of Palmyra and Aleppo, as well as Mosul in Iraq, documenting, to the smallest detail, the destruction they have suffered under ISIS’ rule ever since 2014.

Organised by The Arab World Institute, the exhibit aims to highlight the costs of war and the importance of preserving cultural heritage, while also providing a rough blueprint of their potential reconstruction.

The installation on the wall begins with the ruined Temple of Bel, and then shows it slowly coming back together in a digitised reconstruction of the site.

The virtual reality experience, created by video game company Ubisoft, allows visitors to walk through five cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, including the Souks of Aleppo and the Mausoleum of Nabi Yunis in Mosul.

It also includes interviews from the city’s residents, cultural experts and local archeologists, who discuss their experiences living through the destruction of their cities and heritage. They show where bombings destroyed the cities and where sites existed before the violence, as well as provides information on the context in which they were ruined.

The exhibit was first shown in Paris in 2018, and this is its second iteration, brought to DC to “to preserve this heritage for the next generation,” according to Arab World Institute Curator Aurélie Clemente-Ruiz.

Age Old Cities will be on display until October 25, 2020.