3D app uncovers lost Mughrabi quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City

A new mobile phone application launched on Thursday has reconstructed the lost Mughrabi quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in a 3D format, more than 55 years after it was destroyed by Israel.

Situated near the Western Wall, the Moroccan, or Mughrabi, quarter housed approximately 1,000 people until Israeli forces took control of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Following the capture, Israel demolished the neighborhood and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, an action considered illegal by the United Nations.

Within a matter of hours, Israeli bulldozers razed over 100 buildings, forcibly displacing the neighborhood’s residents.

The quarter, established by Saladin in 1187 to accommodate Muslim pilgrims from North Africa, now functions as a plaza in front of one of Judaism’s holiest sites. French historian Vincent Lemire, working in collaboration with Italy’s University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, developed a mobile application that enables users to virtually explore each alley of the historic quarter.

The application offers an immersive experience, allowing individuals to traverse the streets, mosques, schools, and courtyards of the Maghrebi quarter.

Lemire, who authored a book on the neighborhood in 2022, believes that the utilization of 3D technology enables a wider audience to access the history of the quarter compared to traditional academic writings. He expressed the need to make the history of the neighborhood more accessible, as the majority of visitors near the Western Wall remain unaware of its significance.

During the application’s launch, Ashraf al-Jandoubi al-Mughrabi, a descendant of Tunisian residents from the quarter, emphasized the district’s importance and the enduring connection of its former inhabitants.

Lemire stressed that “the Mughrabi quarter represents the rich and diverse history of Jerusalem, contrasting with the current state of the city, which he described as a simplistic battleground between two factions. He believes that this dichotomy disregards the multitude of pluralistic narratives that contribute to Jerusalem’s past.”

In January 2023, Israeli archaeologists conducted excavations in the area and unearthed remnants of the neighborhood. However, concerns were raised regarding the preservation of the ruins, which were hastily reburied shortly after their discovery.

The 3D reconstruction of the Mughrabi quarter is part of a broader initiative known as “Open Jerusalem,” which has brought together approximately 60 researchers. The project aims to compile and digitize an archive of around 40,000 documents in 12 languages, shedding light on the history of Jerusalem.

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