An Immersive Virtual Experience for Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites

The cross-border (CB) area, is characterized by unique cultural heritage that could form the basis for tourism development. This has been imprinted to various printed or audiovisual material that are stored in Libraries across this area. However, many of those Cultural Heritage Objects (CHOs) that include the history, tradition, culture of the two nations, are being stored behind glass showcases or in the basement of the Libraries with no access to visitors due to old age or increased significance. Also, those assets cannot be digitised since are too sensitive and their quality is too low due to destruction or age-related corruption. The overall objective is to: (i) identify, protect and preserve cultural heritage of the cross-border area through highlighting content included in rare, very old, but too significant assets included in the Libraries. (ii) Act as an attractive touristic package that results to a common reference point for all tourists visiting the area in order to have an in-depth experience with tangible and intangible assets and better understand the traditions, history and culture of people living in the area. In order to address these challenges, VirtuaLand delivers a Virtual Reality (VR) interactive platform, where selected CHOs are converted to cultural and touristic scenarios. The CHOs will be mainly acquired from the Repositories “Olympias” and “EpirusMnimon” of the University of Ioannina Library that hold rare essays with significant cultural content of the CB area as well as old assets from the University of Gjirokaster Library and the Central Public Library of Konitsa. Users will not only consume information stored in the assets of interest, but also to “live” into another era, identify the living conditions of that period and interact with people, enhancing their experience. VirtuaLand delivers also a library of 3D objects and an open VR platform, where Libraries, professionals in the tourism industry or individuals with limited programming skills will be able to create their own VR stories, increasing the sustainability of the platform. Thus, training activities are foreseen n the use and extension of the VirtuaLand platform, but, also, on the cultural framework of the area. Two VR Halls (one in Greece and one in Albania), will be created in order to demonstrate the VR created content to groups of tourists. Thus, the Libraries could be transformed to a source of knowledge and a valuable reference information and starting point for all tourists visiting CB area. Finally, VirtuaLand results to a common brand name between Greece and Albania, the “VirtuaLand” brand that will include VR packages, embedding interactive virtual environment to promote the common natural, cultural and historical identity of the area of interest.

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