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Experience the Secrets of a Threatened Taiwanese Temple

New 3D reconstructions make it possible to look inside Lukang Longshan

One of the most stunning features of Taiwan's Lukang Longshan Temple is its extravagant wood caisson ceiling. (Wei-Te Wong (Flickr/Creative Commons))
smithsonian.com

Asia’s Ring of Fire is famous for its volcanoes, fault lines and earthquakes that extend 25,000 miles in a horseshoe-like shape around the Pacific. But it's equally famous for being home to some of the most spectacular cultural treasures on Earth. The area's natural wonders, however, present real preservation challenges for those who want to save the temples and historic sites resting on them for future generations.

Luckily, there’s an ally in the fight to save threatened landmarks—technology like virtual reality and 3D imaging. Preservation non-profit CyArk and data backup specialists Iron Mountain recently teamed up to preserve one threatened site, Taiwan’s famous Lukang Longshan Temple, with digital scans and drones.

The Ming Dynasty-era sanctuary is both beautiful and culturally significant. Located in Lukang Township in Changhua County, Taiwan’s most populous county, the building is a grand Buddhist shrine. It’s home to one of Taiwan’s most famous carved dragons and is dripping in symbolism, from yin-and-yang fish to everything from bats to elephants. As Lonely Planet notes, it contains a shrine to the Bodhisattva Guanyin, a merciful goddess figure revered for rescuing beings from suffering.

The 9,600-square-foot temple is a popular tourist destination, but some of its most breathtaking features are inaccessible to mere humans. For example, the temple’s elaborate spider-web caisson ceiling, located above its main stage, is definitely a look-but-don’t-touch feature. But with the help of 3D imaging, it’s easy to explore its traditional East Asian design and almost psychedelic layers.

A carved stone pillar of the temple is also available in 3D. Check out its undulating animals and exquisite craftsmanship from every angle:

To document the inner glory of Lukang Longshan, the team relied on both aerial captures from drones and digital scanning that revealed every facet of the building’s interior. And not a moment too soon: In 1999, notes Changhua County’s tourism bureau, the temple was ravaged by an earthquake that cracked the roof and shook its pillars and gates. Thanks to the help of local entrepreneurs and academics, the site was restored and reopened in 2008. But given the number of earthquakes and volcanoes in the Ring of Fire and the threat of rising sea levels due to climate change, it makes sense to document the breathtaking building—and other precious structures like it—before it’s too late.

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