UNESCO Creates a Virtual Museum of Stolen Cultural Artifacts

UNESCO, in Collaboration With Interpol, Decided to Establish a Virtual Museum of Stolen Cultural Artifacts.

Oct 15, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Potential Virtual Museum of Stolen Artefacts. Source: UNESCO


UNESCO and Interpol are establishing a virtual museum of stolen cultural artifacts. There are also other partners, needed to build this $25,000,000 digital attraction. Overall, Saudi Arabia provided the initial financing for the endeavor. The first announcement came in September 2022. However, the agency examined Francis Kéré’s draft layout for the initial time at a meeting last week.


3D Simulations “as in a real museum”

The project. Image courtesy of UNESCO/Kéré Architecture


Kéré is a native of Burkina Faso and winner of the 2022 Pritzker Architecture Prize. As a result of their similar interests, Kéré and UNESCO decided to collaborate. “For this project, we needed an architect capable of rewriting the traditional playbook, who could design spaces while thinking outside the box, who could intimately link the material with the immaterial”, said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director-general.


One of Kéré’s 3D creations is a baobab plant. In many African tribes, this tree plays a crucial role in daily life. Also, it represents a testament to resiliency. The Guggenheim Museum in New York will inspire the museum’s architectural design. This museum is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its spiraling design. “Through the act of circulating virtually, visitors will be able to embody the search for stolen art across the globe”, a statement from the organization said.


Audrey Azoulay
Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, pictured with Francis Kéré, the architect of the new online museum. Photo courtesy of UNESCO/Christelle ALIX


Visitors to the website will be able to look into 3D simulations “as in a real museum”. Also, they gain accessibility learning materials, according to the organization. Additionally, tales and testimonies from nearby towns will be featured in the museum. “The virtual museum will be a game-changing tool to raise awareness on the illicit trafficking and the importance of protecting cultural heritage among the relevant authorities, culture professionals, and the general public, notably young generations”, the organization stated.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


Six Hundred Interpol Objects Presented

chinchorro museum exhibit chile
View of the Chinchorro Exhibit, San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum, Arica, Chile, 2017, via UNESCO


The organization’s statement also described the museum nature. “The project aims at designing the first virtual immersive reality museum of stolen cultural objects at a global scale. It will contribute to raising awareness among the general public to the consequences of illicit trafficking of cultural property and contribute to the recovery of stolen objects”, the statement says.


The 2025 is the projected opening year for the museum. Interpol’s inventory of 600 items includes artwork as the first 600 items to be presented. The initial exhibition’s components will not be officially revealed until just before it opens. A a third-century gypsum marble plaque looted from Yemen’s Awwam Temple is among the items on the coalition’s roster. There are also other items.


delphi temple of apollo unesco
Temple of Apollo at Delphi, 601 – 330 BCE, via UNESCO


These are a seventh-century B.C. ivory relief looted from the Baghdad Museum, and a fifth- or sixth-century figurine stolen from a temple complex in Rajasthan, India. “While this virtual exhibition won’t make up for the physical lack of these artworks, it will at least restore fundamental access to them and help strengthen advocacy for their return”, Azoulay said.

Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.