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Alessandra Potenza

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Syrian arch razed by ISIS and re-created with 3D technology arrives in New York City

It will stay in City Hall Park for a week

A replica of a 2,000-year-old Roman arch that was destroyed by ISIS in Syria last year was unveiled in New York City today. The triumphal arch, a two-thirds scale of the original, was first showcased in Trafalgar Square in London this past April. Now, it will stay in City Hall Park for a week before being shipped to its next destination, Dubai.

The replica was made by the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) using 3D computer models based on photographs of the original arch; the photos were taken by archaeologists and tourists before the city of Palmyra, where the arch stood, was captured by ISIS in May 2015. Two robots in the city of Carrara, in Italy, then used the 3D modeling to re-create the finely carved arch out of Egyptian marble.

At the unveiling ceremony, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said the arch is "first and foremost an act of solidarity" with the people of Syria. But it's also "an act of defiance" that sends the message that "we will not stand for acts of terrorism, we will not stand for people murdered and thrown out of their country."

ISIS uses the destruction of cultural heritage as a propaganda tool. The group has become infamous for looting and destroying artifacts from museums, as well as bulldozing temples, shrines, and monuments. Videos of the destruction are then circulated online. ISIS destroys religious monuments because the group views them as idol worship, but they also sell artifacts for profit.

The arch is "first and foremost an act of solidarity"

Glen said the timing of the unveiling two days after a bomb went off in Manhattan, injuring 29 people made the arch even more important as a symbol against terrorism. The location of the arch, which is very close to the World Trade Center, is also significant, Glen said. "What could be more appropriate than to have this symbol of freedom in front of City Hall, so close to where we had our own challenges?"

The arch, which weighs nearly 30,000 pounds and stands about 25 feet tall, was assembled over five hours in City Hall Park on Sunday. An accompanying exhibition at the Grolier Library will allow visitors to learn more about the role of technology in preserving the world's cultural heritage, using AR and VR technology.

IDA’s final goal is to bring the arch back to Palmyra, where the original was destroyed in the summer of 2015. (Palmyra was recaptured by the Syrian government in March.) In New York, visitors will be able to walk underneath the replica and touch it. One person at the unveiling ceremony said she came all the way from Los Angeles to see the arch.

"I think it's great to remind us that ISIS can't destroy an idea or a culture," she said. "They can't say, 'we destroyed a symbol' and get away with it."

Photography by Alessandra Potenza


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