A few weekends ago, before we fortuitously stumbled upon a seasonal fair in the Prado de San Sebastian that was still open, we visited the Casa de la Ciencia, or Science Museum, housed in the Pabellon de Peru opposite Parque Maria Luisa. It’s a few years since our last visit – four, to be exact – and we were most impressed.
Don’t compare it to the one in London, as this is a fraction of the size, although equally popular with my children for its fun, hands-on approach. And the building itself is a thing of wonder – an extraordinary confection of storybook beasts – snakes, condors, llamas and jaguars carved in stone – as well as Inca deities. It’s a funny old mix, science and Latin American motifs, but it works. Discovery and exploration.
The main exhibition currently, in the central patio as you walk in, is about Memory. This is a topic close to my heart, since my darling Dad has largely lost his (vile, vile vascular dementia). It was very well presented, wonderfully interactive and completely engaged both my children (aged nearly 7 and 9), and me. Handily, the information is presented in both Spanish and English.
We tried to remember the exact design of a one euro coin from a selection of similar ones (only the nine-year-old managed). This is much harder than it sounds, as it’s something you see on a daily basis, yet probably can’t pick out. We tried to memorise – and then recognise – faces, words, and pictures; we endeavoured to identify smells; and we learned what happens to your brain when you have a stroke (the blood supply decreases), by watching a video about a man who had suffered one.
As vascular dementia itself is a series of small strokes, which affect the brain to varying degrees, this was all highly relevant. Doesn’t resolve or change the situation, but helps to elucidate.
You could also see tiny cross-sections of brain on a slide, one with and one without Alzheimers – the difference between the cells of the two samples was clear, as the organ tissue changes with the disease. A microscope was mentioned in the information panel, for looking more closely at the slides of brain cell, but we couldn’t see one.
Upstairs were two further exhibitions: one on poo (yes, really) entitled Excreta, and one called Plastihistoria de la Ciencia, on scientists and inventors – a room full of plasticine models of them, in context with their inventions, helpers, students. It may sound childish and silly, but it was charming – I’m not sure how much the children learned, but it was a very approachable way of presenting luminaries in relevant settings, with pertinent facts: Leonardo da Vinci (telescope, pictures of planets, machines ahead of their time), Pythagoras (small pyramid to explain his angle of the hypotenuse theorem, Greek columns) and Charles Darwin (tortoises, animals adapting to new environments, theory of evolution).
The latter was a particular personal favourite, as I’ve been to the Galapagos Islands and seen the giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Centre – not the same ones that Darwin studied, obviously, but not so many generations apart, as these extraordinary reptiles can live as long as 100 years. The detail was amazing, with environment and props – office, classroom, lab with sink and taps, stone teaching tablet, specimen net – painstakingly reproduced in miniature. Sadly this exhibition has now finished.
One small criticism would be that the glass cases were a little too high for younger children – my six-year-old, who is of average stature for her age, couldn’t see inside, and had to be lifted up. My back didn’t thank me, and neither did the cases when she grabbed onto them for a better view, almost ending in disaster for Leonardo. Either make them lower, or provide stools (no pun intended) for little ones.
On our way out, we visited the shop – as in many museums (and airports, grr), you are unavoidably directed through before you leave. I am a total sucker for museum shop knick-knacks, I confess, and my children inevitably clamour for pens, books, toys, anything that takes their fancy. So I was harassed into buying… nothing, for once, as I stood my ground.
But we loved the grow-your-own strawberries and tomatoes kits, which reminded me of some I saw in the Alcazar on a recent visit – seeds from orange and pomegranate trees in the palace gardens. A fabulous idea from Nomad Garden, who have mapped all the plant species of the Alcazar gardens and produced a leaflet showing where each specimen is located, which continent it comes from, which plants cause most allergies and when, and loads more handy facts and information, as well as an app.
Back to the Casa de la Ciencia – it also has a small Planetarium, which we didn’t visit – next time. We did look at the geological samples in the basement – sparkly coloured minerals, many from sites around Andalucia, as well as plant and animal fossils.
Although it’s not a huge space, this museum had more than enough to keep us happily interested and stimulated for a good two hours, which is as long as you can hope for with small children. I would rate it, along with the seafaring exploration museum Pabellon de Navegacion (an Expo 92 building) and the Aquarium (if only they’d drop their exorbitant entrance prices), as a tip-top indoor attraction for kids in Seville.
Activities on offer include weekend classes in Robotics and computer programming, which caught our eye, as Zac is doing an introduction to programming online course.
A new exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci opens at the Casa de la Ciencia on 22 January. Memoria is on until 15 August. For more information and prices see the Casa de la Ciencia website. The address is Avenida Maria Luisa, 41013 Seville, tel 954 232 349 and it is open 10am – 9pm Tuesday to Sunday.