x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Google turns guide with the inside track on Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s finest points

Google's Street View team has mapped the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Users will be able to travel, virtually, around the largest mosque in the country from today.

A photograph of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque taken by Google as part of its Special Collect project, that aims to capture in detail every major landmark on the planet, and make the images available online. Courtesy Google
A photograph of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque taken by Google as part of its Special Collect project, that aims to capture in detail every major landmark on the planet, and make the images available online. Courtesy Google

ABU DHABI // Internet users will be able to explore the interior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from today – by “Googling” it.

Google’s Street View team has spent four days of intensive filming mapping out minute details of the country’s largest mosque to give users close-up views of the structure, inside and out.

The feat is achieved using sophisticated camera equipment and powerful editing software that “stitches” the images together.

As members of the team moved around the mosque’s interior and exterior they used a trolley mounted single lens-reflex (SLR) camera and a purpose-built device called a trekker – a backpack-mounted camera that can film in 360 degrees.

“It is a holy place, so the challenge was to respect the area and make sure that we follow everything that needs to be followed. That was our first concern,” said Pascale Milite of the Street View team.

The project is part of Google Maps’ “Special Collect” initiative that aims to capture every famous landmark on earth to be viewed online.

“Special Collect’s goal is to able to bring users to a destination simply by clicking on their computers, and for those who can’t physically go to a place themselves. It could also be used for people preparing to visit a location,” she said.

The operation was carried out with the full cooperation of the staff at the Grand Mosque.

“This is really about bridging cultures, between the international community and the local culture,” said Abdul Aziz Al Maamari, director of the Cultural Communication and Activities Department at Sheikh Zayed Mosque Centre.

“It is about giving the same experience as the actual visitor. It reaches out to actual visitors and virtual visitors.

“The mosque has a cultural and religious relevance. It can really show the identity of the UAE. It is able to show the extent of the achievements of the country, and it is especially important on National Day.

“It is not just an architectural achievement, but a religious one and something we are proud of and something we love to celebrate.

“We would love to continue working with Google on our future plans,” Mr Al Maamari said.

Google explained why it included the site in its Special Collect.

“We were keen to work on it because we always want to showcase the cultural achievements and interesting venues in the UAE to users around the world,” said Tarek Abdalla, head of marketing for Google in the Middle East and North Africa region.

“The UAE is rich with many kinds of architectural and cultural achievements. We thought the mosque was important because it bears the name of the late Sheikh Zayed and because it is also an architectural feat. We wanted to show people around the world.

“The mosque management were very helpful and the process went very smoothly and they were keen for the project to go ahead.”

Mr Abdalla said Google initiative did not take away from the experience of visiting the mosque.

“I think it actually makes the experience of going to that location so much more exciting. You can set your expectations on something. Most people haven’t had the opportunity and might never be able to see the inside of these landmarks. My personal view is that it actually really entices people to go.

“We wanted to celebrate with the UAE the most important day in the national calender, and we wanted to launch it now because the significance is so much bigger,” he said.

In June this year, the team mapped the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building and also gave users a glimpse inside an Emirates Airbus A380.

Last year alone the mosque attracted almost 4.7 million visitors from across the world and took 13th place in TripAdvisor’s 2013 Travellers’ Choice Awards.

More than 1 billion users access Google Maps every year.

ksinclair@thenational.ae