Baalbek Reborn: Temples

3-star rating
PCVR, Link
Free, History, Travel
Comfortable, Stationary

Recreation of the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon.

Located in the Mediterranean country of Lebanon, the city of Baalbek sits in a fertile valley populated for over eight thousand years. Temples have been built in the city, each built on the ruins of a previous site, with the most recent structures being the Temples of Jupiter and Bacchus built by the Romans some two thousand years ago. The Temple of Jupiter is the largest ever built by the Romans, and though much of it lies in ruins today there is still much to marvel at.

Baalbek Reborn: Temples presents an engaging 45 minute tour crafted by the German Archaeological Institute that is available in four different languages. Accompanying the audio narration is a combination of 360 degree photography and computer graphic reconstruction of the site from around 40 different locations.

Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter viewed from today.
Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter viewed from the VR app.

Aerial photography of the Bequaa Valley introduces the experience, complete with an accompanying narration that provides a good overview of the city and temple site. In virtual reality you're free to engage with the tour at your own pace using the clean and capable menu and map interface on your left hand. The menu is also the place where you can start, pause and skip each location-based chapter of the audio tour. Past and present views from each vantage point are revealed as the audio narration plays out. The menu does provide you with the option to switch between views yourself, though this does reset the position of the audio. Also, there's no snap turning available, making it difficult as a seated experience.

Though there's a lot to see on this tour we were disappointed with the mediocre resolution of the 360 degree photography. Particularly for a tour that focuses on architectural detail it was disappointing not to be able to fully appreciate the many examples of inscription and decoration carved into the 2,000 year old stone. Computer generated recreated scenes are also somewhat blurry and look outdated compared with what is possible with modern textures and 3D modelling.

Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter viewed from today.
Screenshots of past and present views for comparison.

Use of virtual reality is limited in this app. We can appreciate the site from the many fixed locations provided, but our vantage points are fixed stationary images that are lacking any sense of presence. We cannot walk around the site freely, there's no audible ambience to pull us in, and shots of stationary visitors in the frame remind us that we're just looking at photographs. We checked out the free flat-screen version of this tour hosted by Yorescape that contains identical content and found it to be almost as good as the VR version but without the hassle of wearing a headset.

The developers of this app also have four other virtual tours featuring other Roman and Greek sites that are available on Steam for a price. Furthermore they offer even more flat-screen tours including 8 Roman, 1 Greek, 2 Egyptian and 1 Mesoamerican sites, all of which are available on Yorescape for a flat annual fee.

Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter viewed from today.
Tour includes vantage points not commonly accessible to the public.

✅ Good coverage of the site with many locations.
✅ Engaging in-depth audio narration.
❌ Mediocre static photography and computer generated images.
❌ Static, stationary prescribed locations with little immersion.

• YouTube: Complete tour
• Wikipedia: Further reading
• Languages: Arabic, English, French, German
• Facebook: Comment on this article

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