Worried about COVID, security or religious restrictions? Try taking a tour of the holy sites of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, by putting on a virtual reality headset.
Israeli-Canadian company Blimey has developed a new tool that offers people an immersive glimpse of the holy sites from anywhere in the world.
Virtual tourists can say a prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site of Islam, visit the Western Wall, which is a remnant of an ancient Jewish temple, or join the lively, sometimes chaotic, Holy Fire ceremony at the Holy Sepulchre, revered as Jesus’ burial site.
In addition to the tour, participants can join a game in which they interact with others and perform tasks – like opening doors, laying a hand on Jesus’ Tomb and placing a prayer note at the Western Wall.
Nimrod Shanit, CEO of Blimey, which has offices in Jerusalem and Toronto, says the technology can be a bridge between cultures, draw people closer and allow them to experience places that may be difficult to access in person.
“In every project that I do, that I envision… the purpose is to be able to give people the opportunity to understand and put prejudice aside and be able to communicate with others without any bias,” Shanit told Reuters.
The virtual reality tour and game feature a mixture of 360-degree videos and models made from 3D scanning, which Shanit says gives the participant a sense of engagement. The travelers can teleport themselves into the holy sites, explore Jerusalem and even engage with locals in the form of 3D holograms.
“Whether you call it metaverse, virtual reality, augmented reality, whatever you want to define this new world that we live in, it is important to understand that it’s simply a tool, the means for people to be able to understand and be able to communicate better and as long as we can create this opportunity as long as we can respect one another and have meaningful connections and be able to interact and understand the world better, I think we will only improve who we are and allow our next generation to do much better in this world,” Shanit said.
Shanit says that in order to attract young audiences who are using technology in their everyday life, heritage sites and museums must offer elements of interaction.
Aside from personal usage on various platforms, Blimey’s technology is also incorporated and being used in museum spaces around the world.
French-born Oury Atlan, who works as an art director at Blimey’s offices in Jerusalem, says he wasn’t able to travel to Jerusalem for many years until he immigrated to Israel.
“This game is an amazing opportunity for people that cannot come right away to be there and to feel it and to have an opportunity to almost touch the walls,” he said.