30.01.2017 - UNESCO Office in Beirut

Documentation Training Will Help Create 3D Models of Damascus Sites

To consolidate and expand their expertise in collecting and analysing visual data, Syrian experts received a third hands-on training from CyArk in emergency documentation of Syria’s cultural heritage sites at UNESCO’s office in Beirut.

As the loss of cultural heritage continues to be a dramatic reality in Syria, the need for a fast and reliable way of documenting the country’s precious historic monuments and archaeological sites remains a pressing issue. Equipped with advanced documentation tools and 3D spatial software, 10 Syrian engineers and architects from the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) took part in a training in the latest reality capture technologies.

For two weeks, the experts, who come from numerous Syrian regions, were instructed by CyArk, an international non-profit organisation engaged in 3D digital preservation of cultural heritage, on how to use three different technologies in documenting sites: terrestrial laser scanning, photogrammetry (the science of making measurements from photographs) and aerial photogrammetry using drones.

“These technologies can give us perfect representation of sites,” said the workshop’s trainer and a field manager at CyArk, Ross Davison. “3D models are essential today for basic site management and in the future to aid in restoration or reconstruction of damaged sites,” he added. 

The workshop included a three-day field visit to the Temple of Eshmoun, South of Beirut where trainees were taught on the ground how to operate laser scanners, high resolution cameras and drones.

The training also focused on the use of advanced software for the registration of data and metadata on documented sites as well as the generation of virtual 3D models. Collected data using this technology allows for a better assessment of sites for conservation purposes.   

The training was hosted by Project Anqa, meaning “phoenix” in Arabic. It is a joint project of ICOMOS; the International Committee on Monuments and Sites, CyArk and Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. This programme aims to create emergency 3D recordings of at-risk cultural heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa. Project Anqa is supported by the Arcadia Fund, a UK grant-making fund whose mission is to protect endangered culture and nature.

In support of Project Anqa’s aims, the team of experts will apply the knowledge they acquired during the training to document six sites in the Ancient city of Damascus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The properties include several Ottoman period structures, including a large palace and mosque, a hospital from the Mamluk period as well as one of the oldest continually operated hammams (bathhouses) in the world. The participants will be equipped with all the needed material for an advanced documentation of the sites.

The 3D recordings will be made accessible to researchers around the world in an Open Access annotated database, thanks to the partnership with Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.

“With most heritage sites in Syria under threat today, we need the equipment and technique to document quickly and accurately,” said Mouna Al-Khouli, director of the technical team at the DGAM.  

“Many of the heritage sites documents and plans are missing today in Syria. Some documents were lost during the crisis,” she said. “Our challenges are numerous especially as we start to assess the extensive damage of heritage sites in Aleppo,” she added stressing the need for more advanced equipment and trained personnel.  

The training was supported by the “Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage” project, a pioneering initiative funded by the European Union with the support of the Flemish Government and Austria in partnership with the ICCROM and ICOMOS. The project focuses on building technical capacities of Syrian experts and institutions and strengthening local, regional and international coordination to develop efficient responses.

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