When I was 15, my Dad took me to Berlin for the first time. One of the many reasons I loved the city was the number of museums of antiquity that it has, as I have a bit of an obsession with ancient history. I must admit, I went a little bit nuts. I took photos of every ancient sculpture in sight. In fact, in the end, I just gave up photographing and just stuck my camera on video mode. I was adamant I was going to see everything and record every little detail.
I can’t say that in the last 9 years my obsession has lessened at all. I’ve come back from trips to Rome, Naples, Athens and Luxor with hundred of photos of every piece of ancient rock I could lay my eyes on. I’ve made myself walk around every corner of every ancient site or antiquity museum I could find, even when suffering from dehydration or when I’ve had to venture off alone because my travel buddies have had enough and decided to leave me to it.
You’ve probably got the picture now. I love world heritage – especially the really, really old stuff. So when I heard that the so-called Islamic State were destroying incredible world heritage sites in the Middle East, I was both angry and sad. These places are not only beautiful but they have a huge cultural significance and everyone deserves the opportunity to see them and learn about their history. My heart sank when the so-called Islamic State entered Palmyra in Syria last year.
Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph was just one of the casualties. However, the arch has now been recreated by the Institute for Digital Archaeology using 3D imaging technology. The arch is made of Egyptian marble and sits at 20ft (5.5m) tall – about two thirds of the size of the original.
The arch is currently in London’s Trafalgar Square for three days (as of the 19th April) as part of World Heritage Week, after which time it will move on to other cities like Dubai and New York, before finishing up in Palmyra, which has now been reclaimed.
Knowing that this would now be the closest I’d ever get to seeing the Arch of Triumph, I headed over to Trafalgar Square to see it. The square was relatively quiet by the time I arrived at 8pm, except for the inevitable traffic noise and the more calming sound of the fountains nearby. There were several people milling around taking photos but the square wasn’t nearly as packed as it often is during the day.
The arch is currently placed in the middle of the square, between Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery, and is cordoned off by a square of metal barriers so you can only get so close.
I did a lap around the arch, so that I was able to see the detailed patterns on it from all angles. As I walked, I caught snippets of conversations: One visitor was discussing how the building of the arch, and coming to see it, were acts of protest in themselves – and I agreed. While we may not be able to replace what the so-called Islamic State has destroyed, we will remember it and in some cases we can rebuild. They cannot destroy our history.