With its roster of World Heritage sites, Unesco aims to preserve some of the most singular places on the planet, but the designation alone doesn’t keep them safe from harm. Of the 1121 properties on the organization’s list, 53 are considered endangered, be it from climate change or armed conflict, urban development or overtourism – and now you can see how those threatened sites might have looked in their original state, thanks to the magic of digital restoration. 

Working from historic drawings and photos of the once-grand sites in their prime, a team from Australia’s Budget Direct insurance company picked six man-made landmarks that still featured some original elements, then worked with industrial designer Erdem Batirbek and architects Jelena Popovic and Keremcan Kirilmaz to reconstruct them digitally. 

A gif of Jerusalem, virtually restored to appear as it did in the 1500s
Jerusalem's Old City and walls, virtually restored to appear as they did in the 1500s ©

In Al-Jazīrah, Iraq, the fortified city of Hatra dates to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, and its sprawling temples cover 1.2 hectares of ground, surrounded by thick walls that helped the city’s inhabitants resist Roman invaders. Today, structures within the religious stronghold are missing a roof here, a wall there – all of which were painstakingly restored and reconstructed. 

The fortified city of Hatra dates to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE ©

As part of the Roman Empire, Libya’s Leptis Magna once boasted a theater, hippodrome, marketplace, shops, residential districts, monuments, and more. Cut to the 21st century, and the city’s amphitheater still stands with its columns and sloped seats, though many more architectural details were previously lost to time. 

The reconstruction of Nan Madol on Temwen Island, in the Federated States of Micronesia
Micronesia's Nan Madol served as the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty from 1200 to 1500 CE ©

Other ancient metropolises – Syria’s Palmyra and the Old City of Jerusalem – received newly rendered walls and other design elements, while Panama’s 17th- and 18th-century Portobelo-San Lorenzo fortifications and Micronesia’s Nan Madol – a collection of islets off the coast of Pohnpei that served as the ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty from 1200 to 1500 CE – got the royal treatment as well. 

Leptis Magna, in Libya's District of Khoms
In Libya, Leptis Magna's theater still stands ©

To see the full list, visit budgetdirect.com.au

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