“If you build it, they will come.” This line from a famous movie describes the thought process behind creating the most innovative and unique tourist attractions.
It’s what was hoped for when museum officials in one of the most historic cities in the world began a project that would create a whole new immersive travel experience for tourists.
And then, disaster struck on a global scale.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for every business that depends on tourism – cruise lines, airlines, museums, and many more.
This is the time of year that many of us make grand travel plans for the spring and summer months. But as the world is now effectively on lockdown, so are the grand plans of businesses that rely on tourist dollars for their survival.
Everywhere in the world people are being forced to get creative – to use what they have and repurpose it into what they need.
And it’s exactly what some of the world’s most famous holy sites are doing to keep people connected to their history, heritage, and faith.
Walk in His Footsteps
Jerusalem, the Holy City, is the site of the most important events in the history of the Christian faith. And it was during this week so many years ago that the foundation was laid for those who would follow Christ’s teachings.
The Tower of David Museum has spent the last couple of years collaborating on a massive project that would modernize the experiences of their city for what was expected to be nearly a half-million visitors this Easter.
Working with virtual reality production companies in Israel and Canada, the museum created a VR experience that would fully immerse throngs of tourists into the events of the very first Holy Week.
And then Israel shut down its borders and barred foreign travelers like many other nations have done during these unprecedented times.
Multiple festivals celebrating Easter – that are important to both locals and tourists alike – have been cancelled in Jerusalem.
The hopes of a monumental exhibit opening for crowds of excited visitors were dashed.
So just like so many other museums around the world, the Tower of David Museum is using what they’ve created in a different way until tourists can one day come back again.
Director and Chief Curator Eilat Lieber had a thought – if the faithful couldn’t come to Jerusalem this Easter, Jerusalem would come to them.
On April 9th, Maundy Thursday – the date remembered as Christ’s Last Supper with His disciples – the museum’s long-awaited virtual-reality experience will be available to view for free online through April 24th.
The production was created with “volumetric scanning and Stereo 360 VR filming,” according to the museum’s site. I won’t pretend to understand what all that means, but it does sound impressive and well worth a look.
The 360-degree view of the Holy City is said to make visitors feel as if they’re really at the scene of some of the most important historic sites in the world, and will bring a wealth of information for all faiths centered around this holy place.
Virtual tourists will also be given a look into some of the annual festivals surrounding Holy Week in this ancient land. By using footage from last year’s events and panoramic shots of the city’s historic architecture, this VR experience is the closest thing you can get to being there.
As churches and pilgrimage sites all over the world have had to temporarily shut their doors, live streaming of services and religious events have become our new norm — one that will hopefully not last much longer.
But the Tower of David Museum’s virtual-reality tour takes it one step further by offering a perspective that only the latest technology could create.
Whether pilgrims had planned to visit the Holy City in person, or would never have had an opportunity to do so, this limited opportunity is one we should all experience during this Holy Week.
And when in Rome…
Jerusalem isn’t the only city having to change plans this Lenten and Easter season.
Tens of thousands of faithful Christian pilgrims typically flood Vatican City for the Pope’s Holy Week masses and festivities surrounding Easter Sunday.
Thankfully, just like museum curators in Jerusalem and other historic cities, Vatican officials have been working for over a decade to bring virtual tours to Christians who cannot make the trip to Rome in person.
For weeks now, the Pope has been holding mass in front of drastically reduced numbers, and the Vatican has streamed services on their website just as thousands of other churches have been doing.
In order to bring the spirit of the Lenten and Easter season to the faithful, the Vatican – in a collaboration with Villanova University – has released their own immersive VR experience for the world’s Christian pilgrims.
The virtual tour includes sweeping panoramas of the historic city’s landmarks and scenery, including the papal basilicas.
Holy Week masses will be live-streamed which, coupled with the Vatican’s virtual tour, both are intended to bring hope and peace to Christians all over the world during this most sacred week at this most difficult time.
While we all hope things get back to normal soon, it’s nice to know that there are some once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences available with a couple of keystrokes from the safety of our homes.
So check out these inspiring Holy sites while you still can!