On 2 January, Seville got another new museum. The Pabellon de la Navegacion was originally built for Expo 92; outside were moored the replicas of Columbus’ three boats, the Pinta, Niña and Santa Maria (now in a special dock at La Rabida in Huelva – due a blog post from a visit I made last year).
Now the pavilion has been refurbished, and reopened as a museum (although that term for me has fusty overtones – discovery centre is more like it) of Atlantic exploration – about the ships which sailed from Spain (indeed, many from Seville itself) in search of the New World, carrying missionaries, merchants and explorers – from the late 15th century onwards.
The "sea of lights", which illuminates section by section, creating a wave effect - much more wow than it sounds (or, indeed, looks in this photo).
The first thing you notice is the sea of lights, which you walk into as soon as you arrive. It’s an extraordinary sight - an undulating mass of black stems, with LED bulbs at their tips, which light up and then go dark in swathes, creating an effect of constantly moving swells, waves forming - so you feel as it you’re surrounded – enveloped – by the ocean.
These form the basis of the first part of the space (Sala 1), which has a curved, wood-beamed ceiling, like a ship. Among the sweeping lights, you can find tales of various voyagers, based on actual people who travelled the oceans centuries ago.
Dominican missionary Fray Tomas, who set sail for the New World in 1544, complains about the mistreatment and lack of respect shown to him and his fellow brothers by the sailors - it was so hot, dirty and uncomfortable, and with such little food, that it was "like hell". Not sure the natives they tried to convert, burning them at the stake if they refused, would have agreed.
These stories are told in delightful animated versions (so much better than cheesy reconstructions using actors), on large screens hanging from the ceiling, which look like they’re floating above the sea of lights (see photo, third above). Every audio feature, and information panel, is available in both English and Spanish.
"Raise the mainsail!" My son experiences life as a cabin boy.
Some are accompanied by typical ship’s features which you have to operate to get the film to start (I had a willing participant, which saved me the bother).
Zac listens to marine adventures - through an illuminated bottle.
You can also listen to modern-day seagoers, (fictional, including a cruise-ship passenger, and a man who travelled in a patera from Africa) whose tales are heard through bottles. You hold them to your ear to hear their voices – a wonderfully simple (and nautical) but effective idea, even if the glass is a bit heavy for younger children to hold onto for too long.
"Poo - yucky, Mum!" - Zac smells the stinky bodies of the captain's cabin.
As well as watching and listening to shipboard tales, other sense are stimulated, with boxes (at child height – it’s been very well thought-out) offering olefactory experiences such as tar, and the captain’s cabin (men unwashed for months).
The model ships you can see were also in the Pabellon in its first encarnation, during Expo 92, which lends a pleasing sense of continuity, as many pavilions were demolished, or left to ruin.
The screens of the historical maritime-themed video games (with benches for you sit down and watch).
But the most popular area with my son was the video games. On a huge panel at the far end of the space, along the back wall (Sala 3: Life on Board), are five screens.
The bilge-pump game - use some muscle to get the water out of the ship as fast as you can.
Each has a ship-themed game, operated by a shipboard device: the (steering) wheel, the bilge pump, the falconete (gun – operated by a button, rather than trigger), the rigging, and the capstan – a winding device used to lift heavy loads, such as the ship’s anchor.
"Hard aport!" My daughter tries out her navigations skills - the corresponding screen wasn't working, but that didn't bother her. (Bet that game is great.)
Sadly, the first screen, with the wheel, wasn’t operational when we visited – this was only the third day of the pavilion being open, so it’s normal to have some hiccups. I noticed a staff member walking around, checking how all the exhibits were running, and making notes on his iPad. The impression was of people who take their job seriously, not necessarily a given here in Andalucia.
Zac takes out some pirates - "Toma ya!"
No prizes for guessing which one my small tester made a beeline for – what little boy doesn’t want to shoot pirates? Each game has a timer and score, so you can see how you’re doing, as well as – thoughtful touch this, a bench for siblings or friends waiting to take a go, or parents wanting to take a load off.
The last area, Sala 4, entitled “Historic Views of Seville”, with two screens, was not operating when we visited.
After leaving the pavilion, you head to the river to go up the tower, which offers amazing views up and down the river, and over the city. More in my next blog post.