QR codes make historical tours come alive

Some places just speak to you, don’t they? While that may have been a figure of speech for as long as we know, it’s now a reality. What makes that possible is the simple use of quick response codes. Eager travelers and traveling enthusiasts can now discover everything they need to know about historical sites, by scanning the QR codes installed there.

Discover a historic site in Amsterdam through QR codes

Discover a historic site in Amsterdam through QR codes. Image by iamsterdam.com

A few places across the world have started using QR codes that allow tourists to scan the code and see information and images about the town or site’s history. These cities include Sacramento K Street (Canada), St. Michaels (Maryland), and Amsterdam (Netherlands). This application of QR codes could result in more tourists not relying on traditional guided tours and taking these free walking tours whenever they please. Being able to see pictures and videos of a historical place will make it easier for tourists to imagine how places used to look like in the past.

QR codes used to show history

Sacramento’s K Street has many buildings that are interesting from an architectural point of view. Local businesses with a distinctive character are also on this street. So, The Sacramento Room and Turn Downtown Around (TDA) decided to create a digital tour of this street, which tourists could take. Sacramento public Library director Rivkah K. Sass said, “Our goal with this project was to build a kind of time machine.”

Amanda Graham, library services specialist and archivist at The Sacramento Room said, “We thought K Street would be perfect because it’s gone through so many changes over the years. With the QR Codes, we hope to catch people’s curiosity as they’re down there, especially if they’re a little uncertain about the building’s history.”

A store in Sacarmento

A 1935 image of a store. Image by Sacramento Public Library.

How QR code on a tour works

You can scan QR codes at different locations on the street with your smartphone’s scanner application. You can then see information and old images of the street from as far back as 1939. The data is stored on SACQR. This mobile optimized site has addresses with images and clickable audio descriptions of many Sacramento locations. Employees at the library’s Sacramento Room digitally archived the information that has been used for the tour.

TDA’s Demetri Gregorakis hopes to “expand the tour to other areas in Sacramento as well.” He also said that some QR codes for small businesses are yet to be posted because their owners “are hesitant to put them up. Once word gets out and some people start looking for them, maybe there will be more of an incentive.”

QR codes can be used to target different groups

The iNature Trail at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island (Florida) has two different sets of QR code- one for children and the other for adults. The QR codes for children take them to interesting and engaging YouTube videos. The QR codes for adults lead to more informational content.

QR code mosaic

A QR code mosaic in Rio de Janeiro. Image by AP.

QR codes can look attractive

This year, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) began embedding QR codes in pavements. This way, tourists can use the codes to take historic tours on their own. The codes are built with the same stones used in traditional mosaic designs on the pavements. Special stone craftsmen with experience in creating pavements from mosaic materials were chosen for the task. Gediao Jorge, one such craftsman, says, “I’ve built Portuguese pavements like these for 27 years now, but this was the biggest challenge of my career.”

Raul Oliveira Neto, a visitor who used the QR code at a site, says, “We use so much technology to pass information, this makes sense.” A local, Diego Fortunato, remarked as he accessed information, “Look, there’s a little map; it even shows you where we are. Rio doesn’t always have information for those who don’t know the city. It’s something the city needs, that it’s been lacking.”

Portugal was the first in the world to fashion QR codes out of cobblestone, in 2012. One problem has been noticed there by MTSF Partners, the agency that created it. Tomás Froes, MTSF Partners, said, “At certain times the sun-light may upset the cameras’ reading of the cobblestone.”

Amsterdam has also introduced QR codes on its pavements, which are works of art in themselves. About 140 such codes are spread across the city. Each sign is made from four handmade ceramic tiles. Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum, with tile making experience dating from the 16th century, has made the tiles.

St. Michael’s, Maryland, also plans to introduce QR codes on pavements. Made from brick, the codes would be easy to see and low maintenance.

A Qr code site- bar in Monmouth

One of Monmouth’s 1,000 QR code sites. Image by Monmouthshire County Council.

QR codes make Monmouth (Wales) world’s first Wikipedia town

Monmouth, Wales, established in 1067 is the birthplace of Henry V. Last year, the Monmouthshire County Council collaborated with Wikimedia to put up a 1,000 QR codes on ceramic plaques and stickers all over the town. The codes lead to Wikipedia articles in the language of the phone used to scan the code. Volunteers all over the world wrote articles in different languages on various parts of the town’s history to make this possible.

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