Jerusalem is an incredible city with a powerful history. We are blessed that so many of its streets, buildings, and sites have survived into the 21st century so we can explore and experience them today. Even so, a lot has changed in the old city since the time Jesus walked its streets, wouldn’t it be amazing to actually see what the city was like back then?
Unbelievably, thanks to cutting-edge VR technology, we can!
The "Step into History” tour at the Tower of David Museum is designed to accomplish this lofty goal. The museum in partnership with the ToD Innovation Lab and Lithodomos VR have produced Israel’s first virtual reality tour. With the aid of portable 3D goggles, visitors will be able to see the walls, streets, and buildings of the city exactly as they would have appeared 2000 years ago.
The tour, available in both English and Hebrew, takes visitors on a 3-hour journey across different neighbourhoods and points of interest in the city. Starting in the Tower of David Museum and snaking down into the narrow streets and rich history of the Old City, VR reconstructions of the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, and the Jewish Quarter can be seen and explored. These three-dimensional displays can be viewed from any angle and convincingly "place” a person wearing them in that space and time.
The idea is to "draw the city” out from the walls and pieces that remain of its legacy. To take what is there and make it omnipresent, giving visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it would have been like to see the city during Jesus’ time when it was undergoing one of its most important and historical building periods.
The tour takes visitors back 2000 years ago to the time of King Herod. Herod oversaw one of the most radical redesigns and expansions of Jerusalem in its history including the rebuilding of the second Temple and Herod’s palace itself. The tour places you in a time while those buildings were new and allows you to see the city with all the awe and wonder as a pilgrim from those times would.
This is accomplished with a Samsung Gear VR headset and accompanying Samsung Galaxy 7 phone and personal earphones. The technology is cutting edge, designed to not just present a 3D image that can be viewed by any angle, but to present the image with such authenticity that it creates a sense of what VR developers call "presence.” This is what they call the feeling when someone feels like they are actually in the virtual world. It’s a sensation that goes beyond simply viewing the images as presented but tricking the brain into buying into the world and suspending your sense of disbelief to fully absorb what is around you.
As impressive as this is, the Step Into History tour is only the first of many projects the Innovation Lab is working on. This Christmas season will also see the soft launch of the Holy City project which will be comprised of VR representations of other major sites in Jerusalem, like Rachel’s Tomb, the streets of the Old City, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to further expand the experience.