A virtual walk through history: Google Street View arrives at Petra

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Visitors to the ancient city of Petra could have been forgiven for wondering if the young woman backpacker was either wearing a football above her head or carrying a robot extra for the new Star Wars film.

In fact she was doing neither. An employee of Google, she was recording every detail of her trek through the centuries-old monument for the company’s latest Street View project.

Petra, carved out of the rocks by the Nabataeans more than 2,000 years ago, was rediscovered by western explorers barely 100 years ago and has since become Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction, dubbed by one poet as “a rose red city half as old as time”.

Its fame increased when the temple known as Al Khazneh, or the Treasury, starred alongside Harrison Ford in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Using its Trekker camera system, users of Google can now follow the traditional route into the complex, with a 360-degree view of the towering rock faces that line the narrow entrance, known as the Siq or crack.

The Jordan project includes other landmarks, including the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo, the monuments at Jerash and the ancient baptismal site on the Jordan River. They can be viewed through Google Maps or on Google Earth.

The internet company was given the blessing of Queen Rania Al Abullah, who said that Street View, “provides a lens on the past. When we understand more about each other’s stories and cultures and histories, we realise that we are more alike than we are different”.

Queen Rania continued: “That’s why we must preserve these treasures for future generations. They’re a doorway to our shared narrative.”

While Street View images are normally collected using a camera mounted on a vehicle, the rocky terrain of Petra and other sites meant recording on foot. To reach another Petra monument known as the Monastery, or El Deir, required climbing 850 winding stone steps.

The wearer also carried the rest of the technology needed to complete the imagery with motion sensors to track the camera’s position, a hard drive to store data and a small computer. To determine some of the distances, lasers were used to capture 3-D data.

The Jordan project is the most ambitious of the five Street View recordings made in the Middle East by Google, which include Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Liwa Desert and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, along with the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

plangton@thenational.ae

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