Travels in VR / a diary of visits to ancient sites in the digital realm.
Video 1: At the entrance of Larabanga mosque, the oldest earthen and timber mosque in Ghana (the building dates back to 1421 but the site itself has been a hub of activity for far longer). Entering through the doorway, the membranes that envelop the mosque alongside the minaret give way to an interior that houses a womb-like prayer space.
The origin story of the mosque is permeated by folklore, many from pre-Islamic ancestral oral histories and traditions––the most famous being the legend of a mystic stone by the mosque which reappeared at its site of origin after being displaced repeatedly. To the side of the mosque is a lush baobab tree (also known as the tree of life), believed to be around five hundred years old; it springs up from the alleged gravesite of the founder of Larabanga, bearing fruits.
Video 2: Approaching the Calanais Standing Stones on the west coast of Lewis in Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Stone circles are places of social rituals; created to honor the dead, often sites of burials and cremations, to identify and commemorate seasons, predict and observe eclipses, places to commune for meetings and perform sacred ceremonies. These stones hold a gathering in a cruciform pattern visible from above. According to local folklore, an entity (called ‘The Shining One’) is said to traverse the length of the avenue of stones midsummer morning, their arrival heralded by the call of a cuckoo. Possibly an ode to the Celtic sun-god Lugh, or the trajectory of a celestial body which lines up with the central ring on summer solstice morning. Ancient pagans believed that it’s on the summer solstice when the veil between this world and the otherworld is most fluid and fragile and the stones could be conceived as portals into other realms.
Video 3: Stood inside Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, India; a place I last visited as a child. Modelled after the ancient Islamic observatory of Ulugh Beg in Samarkand, it’s one of the world’s most accurate pre-modern observatories. The words jantar and mantar (or yantra and mantra) mean calculation / theory and instrument. The thirteen astronomical instruments were built on a grand architectural scale. Individual structures measured solar time, the celestial paths of the sun and moon and the latitudes and longitudes of planets and constellations.