Heritage does not stand still. It reinvents itself continuously, speaks with different voices, passes messages from the distant past to the far future through the tiny window of the present day.
That window can be many things: a folktale, religious ceremony, scientific paper, architectural style or artistic jewel.
It could even be CyArk, photogrammetry makers with a mission to preserve Earth’s greatest treasures so that we humans will always remember who we are, who we were and all the little steps in between.
Recently, CyArk re-imaged the Ohrid region’s spectacular Church of St Sophia. We interview them here.
What is photogrammetry in simple terms?
Photogrammetry is the science of taking measurements from photographs. CyArk uses thousands of overlapping images to generate a 3D model of the building that we are documenting.
We combine the photogrammetric model with a point cloud generated from Laser scan (LiDAR) data to create a precise point in time record of the monument today.
By digitally preserving sites, we can help archaeologists and site managers make informed decisions on the management and ongoing conservation of the site.
How familiar are you with the cultural and natural heritage of the Ohrid region? What surprised you most about the World Heritage Site here?
Before any field expedition, CyArk always does some limited research on the site and history of the region. However, Ohrid and Macedonia in general blew us away.
It is easy to see why Ohrid has been inhabited for millennia. The natural beauty and uniqueness of the lake combined with the impressive number of historic buildings and architectural heritage is astounding and is justifiably recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage property.
What is your impression of the state of conservation in the Ohrid region? How could it improve?
Our team was really impressed with the large number of beautiful monuments within Ohrid. Due to the sheer number of architectural treasures in the region, it would be difficult for any country to manage and conserve all of the historic buildings.
Our work here in Ohrid was funded by a Macedonian-Australian individual and I think the local community could benefit from other projects funded not only through government initiatives but through a variety of different fundraising mechanisms.
How will locals and visitors benefit from the results of your St. Sofia photogrammetry project?
The documentation of St. Sofia will be used as a point in time record of the site so that researchers and conservators can consult the documentation to monitor changes and perform analyses. The 3D assets can also be used for promotional and outreach purposes.
Digital assets can be uploaded online so that people can explore and see the site in a new way and interact virtually with the incredible frescoes within the church.
Will your work be available for use by third parties? How would you like to see it used?
All CyArk’s data generated from the documentation of the cathedral is owned by the Ministry of Culture of Macedonia.
We will publish all of the raw data online via our Open Heritage Portal for free so that researchers and interested members of the public will be able to download and do their own analyses with the documentation.
Have you ever worked with the tourism industry or seen your work applied in tourism-crafted services?
Sometimes a site where we work doesn’t have a pressing conservation need and instead our work is driven by the need for multimedia and 3D assets that can generate awareness and promote the site.
On a project we completed in Vietnam, the conservation team had just finished the restoration of several monuments and they requested videos and 3D models that they could use to show the work that was done and raise awareness for the site as a tourist destination.
What is next for photogrammetry? Have you considered applying AR to your work?
CyArk has experimented with both AR and VR applications to engage with our 3D documentation of heritage sites. Most recently we published a free educational VR experience known as Masterworks that leads visitors to four historical monuments around the world.
The scaled 3D environments are embedded with audio commentary from site experts and archaeologists as well as artifacts from the associated museums that users can interact with.
How would you describe the Church of St Sophia’s current state of conservation, 60 years after its restoration?
Reading the reports of how the Church of St. Sophia was restored we recognize what an incredible conservation project was completed here. The church is truly unique in the world and it was massive undertaking to preserve the frescoes and stabilize the building.
There is always more work to do and we hope the documentation we provide will inspire academics and researchers to carry out new analyses on the building and spur new restoration projects.
What message would you like to share with the people of the Ohrid region and Macedonia in general?
We are very grateful to the people of Macedonia, the members of the Ministry of Culture, local experts, site managers at St. Sophia and the Ohrid community for their help and expertise in making this project possible.
We hope that by featuring this project on our website and social media channels as well as on our Open Heritage platform that we will raise awareness around the incredible heritage of Ohrid and St. Sophia in particular.
We believe that having the support of the local community is a necessary part of any heritage conservation project and hope that this is the first of many digital preservation projects in Macedonia.
All photos generously provided by CyArk.