Italy plans virtual Baghdad museum

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After helping to fund the reopening of Iraq's National Museum, Italy is planning a virtual exhibition of Mesopotamian and Islamic treasures, many of which are still missing from the looted Baghdad repository, officials said Wednesday.

Starting late next month, Internet surfers will be able to roam eight virtual halls showcasing artifacts dating from the birth of civilization in ancient Iraq to the founding of Baghdad in A.D. 762.

The Web site will include 3-D models, videos and animations of antiquities held in museums worldwide as well as some lost in 2003 when looters ransacked the Baghdad museum amid the chaos of the city's fall to U.S. forces.

Some 100 archaeologists and computer experts worked for more than two years to complete the euro1 million ($1.28 million) project.

The virtual exhibit does not seek to reproduce the Baghdad museum but rather give a broad look at the art and history of a land that hosted some of mankind's earliest civilizations and later became the scientific and literary hub of the Medieval Arab world, said Massimo Cultraro, the archaeologist who led the project.

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