AlUla’s UNESCO World Heritage site Hegra open to visitors in metaverse

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Saudi Arabia has opened its UNESCO World Heritage site, Hegra, to virtual visitors in the metaverse.

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Created in the vast online landscape of Decentraland, the digital Hegra offers desktop tourists a chance to get inside the site’s ancient tombs, which are not accessible to their real-world counterparts.

A digitally created image of the first UNESCO World Heritage site to enter the metaverse, the virtual recreation of the Tomb of Lihyan, which allows visitors to experience Hegra's history in vivid detail. Image provided on February 21, 2023. (Reuters)
A digitally created image of the first UNESCO World Heritage site to enter the metaverse, the virtual recreation of the Tomb of Lihyan, which allows visitors to experience Hegra's history in vivid detail. Image provided on February 21, 2023. (Reuters)

“As you visit the site in real world, in real life, you won’t be able to access the inside of the tomb for conservation reasons because it's a very delicate site that's obviously an ancient old site,” Ahmed H. Daoud, Executive Director of Innovation at the Royal Commission for AlUla said.

“If you visit our same site on the metaverse you’ll be able to enter the tomb, explore the inside of it, see it exactly as it is in the real world because we have 3D scanned it with LASER and LIDAR to provide an exact replica of it on the metaverse that you could explore by visiting there with your avatar,” Daoud said.

The Nabateaens were an Arab civilization that arose centuries before the time of Jesus and settled in Hegra in the first century BCE, after expanding south from Petra into what is now north-west Saudi Arabia, having amassed wealth as traders.

A digitally created image of the first UNESCO World Heritage site to enter the metaverse, the virtual recreation of the Tomb of Lihyan, which allows visitors to experience Hegra's history in vivid detail. Image provided on February 21, 2023. (Reuters)
A digitally created image of the first UNESCO World Heritage site to enter the metaverse, the virtual recreation of the Tomb of Lihyan, which allows visitors to experience Hegra's history in vivid detail. Image provided on February 21, 2023. (Reuters)

Hegra covers more than 50 hectares, but the metaverse version features the Tomb of Lihyan, the largest of more than a hundred tombs at 22 meters tall and the largest preserved site of the ancient Nabataeans.

The Royal Commission for AlUla hopes a visit to the digital version of the site will encourage people to make the trip in person.

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