This App Lets You Explore the World's At-Risk Heritage Sites Before They're Gone

Chichen Itzá/pixabay
Chichen Itzá/pixabay

Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor

Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with the non-profit CyArk to create the Open Heritage project, a collaboration dedicated to digitally capturing, archiving and sharing interactive 3D renderings of at-risk heritage sites from all over the world.

Loved by over 40s

In 2001, Iraqi-American entrepreneur Ben Kacyra watched the news with horror as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan valley, ancient Mesopotamian statues carved into the cliffs in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan.

Despite their status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no detailed archive of the 1,500-year-old Buddhas had been created before they were lost forever.

The space formerly occupied by one of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Determined to prevent other at-risk world heritage sites from disappearing without record, Kacyra and his wife Barbara, who were then working as tech entrepreneurs, set out to apply the 3D capture technology developed by their California-based start-up to archive historic monuments around the world.

The resulting project, CyArk, short for Cyber Archive, was officially formed in 2003.

Using laser scanners, high resolution cameras and drones to capture the geometry, colour and texture of structures, CyArk has documented sites from Mexico’s Chichén Itzá to the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar.

CyArk documenting Thailand’s Ayutthaya with a drone

Now, the non-profit has partnered with the Google Arts & Culture app to create the Open Heritage project, a new feature allowing users to explore 26 iconic locations – from Pompeii in Italy to Syria’s Al Azem palace.

In addition to offering users free 3D expeditions and guided histories of each site, the data from CyArk’s collection is all open-source, allowing academics, researchers and the public to download the archive for their own work.

Potential uses for the data, which provides free accurate maps of the historical sites, includes the creation of expanded immersive virtual tours and could add invaluable insight for future reconstruction efforts.

CyArk documents Bagan with 360 imagery

“Over the past seven years, we’ve partnered with 1,500 museums from over 70 countries to bring their collections online and put more of the world’s culture at your fingertips,” says Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture division. “This project marks a new chapter for Google Arts & Culture, as it is the first time we’re putting 3D heritage sites on the platform.”
The Google Arts & Culture app is available for free on iOS and Android. Search ‘Open Heritage’ to explore the new features.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.