Oct 7, 2016 | By Alec

Even though ISIS has been losing on all fronts for the last few months, the sad truth is that we cannot undo the damage they have done. Thousands upon thousands of people have lost their lives, whole societies have been destroyed while countless ancient artefacts from Iraq and Syria have been pulverized for being ‘un-Islamic’. But at least on that last front, we can make a difference. Even though the originals have been torn away from humanity’s grasp, a team of Italian artists have used 3D printing to breathe new life into several irreplaceable artefacts from Iraq and Syria, including the Bull of Nimrod – an icon of the Assyrian empire.

This fantastic initiative was set up by Emmanuele Emanuele of the foundation Terzo Pilastro-Italia, which has just opened a new exhibition in Rome’s Colosseum. Titled ‘Rising From the Ashes: Ebla, Nimrud, Palmyra’, it was enabled by Unesco and presents recreations of three key monuments destroyed by ISIS. Also on display are several remains from destroyed artefacts, and the exhibition is open to the public until early December. “It’s not a form of revenge. Rebuilding is simply a human duty,” the organizers say.

Perhaps most iconic is the androcefalo bull, the Bull of Nimrod, from the Assyrian palace in Nimrud, Iraq. The original was built thirty-three centuries ago, but the entire palace was brought to the ground using bulldozers and explosives back in March 2015. A crime against history, as the North-West Palace (as it is called) was considered to be the Versailles of the Assyrian world.

The other two recreated monuments, the Hall of Archives from Ebla and the Temple of Bel from Palmyra, both in Syria, are of comparable importance. Of the latter, only a few fragments still exist in the world after ISIS brought explosives to the site back in August 2015. The sixteen square meter archive room from the Palace of Elba, which once was home to 17,000 cuneiform tablets, is in a state of serious neglect and could be lost forever as well. Like the Nimrud palace, they have been consciously targeted by ISIS in an attempt to not just destroy world heritage, but to eradicate a people’s culture and identity.

But this crucial Italian project is fighting back, with the help of archeologist Paolo Matthiae and Francesco Rutelli, the president of the ‘meeting of civilizations’. They are fighting to combat the deliberate destruction of archeological sites and historical monuments, and came into contact through Professor Emmanuele Emanuele through that focus. With this exhibition, they hope to create awareness about the importance of safeguarding the heritage of humanity, and even find new ways to restore those precious artefacts that still remain.

The authorities governing the colosseum and Rome’s archeological treasures were also involved. The exhibition was opened by Italian president Sergio Mattarella, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni and the Minister of Heritage and Cultural Activities and Tourism Dario Franceschini were also present. The results have already, the organizers argued, underlined the deep cultural relationship shared by all nations surrounding the Mediterranean.

To actually recreate these three monuments of Elba, Nimrud and Palmyra at a 1:1 scale, three Italian companies were brought in. Under the guidance of a scientific committee of archaeologists and historians, they used robotic 3D printers, 3D scanners and digital data to create very accurate replicas of the monuments.

Palmira

Visitors are first greeted by the towering bull that used to guard the Nimrud throne room, before continuing on into the archive room in Elba – which was only discovered back in 1964. Afterwards, visitors can walk into the center of the Temple of Bel of Palmyra, including a ceiling reconstruction. The exhibition is completed with a video installation that brings visitors to the iconic locations in Syria and Iraq where the monuments once stood. Two high-reliefs from the National Museum of Palmyra, also scarred by ISIS barbarism, are also on display alongside various other damaged artefacts.

As the developers explain, the key message of their exhibition is that no civilization is immune from destruction. At the same time, rebuilding is a form of reconciliation. “When we think back of Europe battered by the Second World War, we choose to think of the time of reconstruction. The city center of Dresden was returned to its original splendor, as a way of permanently overcoming the horrors of the past,” they argued. But now new awareness is rising, that we have to actively protect heritage and prosecute those who seek to destroy it – as can be seen in the recent trial of those guilty of the destruction of Timbuktu, the first time the International Criminal Court worked on such a case.

But the Italian team is planning to go even further. “In the near future it will become possible to rebuild destroyed artefacts on site. That is the future that we, as peaceful people, want to create and rebuild,” Emanuele says. Another application in which construction 3D printers could play a key role. Right now, they are hoping to transport the recreations to Syria and Iraq through the Italian Foreign Ministry, with the hope that they can be set up in National Museums in those countries.

 

 

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