Always on the lookout for interesting museums to visit, as well as affordable sightseeing options and ways of entertaining the boy, we decided a visit to the CosmoCaixa of Barcelona was in order. The CosmoCaixa is Barcelona’s Science Museum. Originally built in the early 20th century as an asylum for the blind, it was expanded and reopened as the Barcelona Science Museum in the early 1980’s. In 1998, it underwent six years of redesign, reconstruction and expansion to open under its new name and under the guidance of the Spanish social foundation “la Caixa”.
The main entrance area is at street level, but turns out to be the top floor of the museum. After purchasing our tickets we enter the museum and wind our way down the five levels to the main level. “Wind” because the way down is a continuos spiral path that encloses a full grown Amazonian Acurquara tree. One can easily see the resemblance to the spires of a Gaudi cathedral, with its intertwining, entangling roots and vines.
The main floor of the museum opens to an incredible collection of science and technology themed installations, designed to be incredibly hands on and interactive. The large – cavernous almost – space, is clean, well-maintained, well-laid out and organized, and architecturally interesting. The very first thing we spy was the pendulum swinging away, suspended by a cable reaching to the ceiling five stories above and slowly working around knocking over a metal pin every few minutes. Similar to pendulums in other museums, but a great entrance nonetheless, especially to set the tone and get the kids talking. Immediately behind the pendulum rises an escalator to another floor. No ordinary escalator to be had here though. Rather, the insides of the escalator are exposed so we can observe the internal mechanisms at work.
We follow the footsteps on the floor to the first installation – an exhibit about the Mediterranean and its history, geography and ecology. The exhibit is triple-signed in Castilian Spanish, Catalan, and English, as is everything in the museum. We learn about the microscopic life in the sea, including microscopes to view various life forms. We touch and feel different sands collected from different beaches around the world and compare their colors and compositions. We get to feel the temperature of different seas around the globe – and yes! – get to taste the salinity of the different seas and how it varies with temperature. This is the first museum in the world that we’ve been to where taste is incorporated into some exhibits. Which brings me to my next favorite – olive oil. Five different Mediterranean oils were presented that we were able to smell – and yes! – Taste. Each one was completely unique and truly distinct.
After the Mediterranean installation, there is a suggested flow to the exhibits. However, we opted to meander through and follow our curiosity. The large exhibit hall is laid out with plenty of room to explore. During our visit there were several large school groups with children of all ages. We imagine this is pretty common, throughout much of the year. Every now and then, if a cluster of kids were around it could be a bit chaotic, but the chaos quickly passed. Overall, we had ample room to move about, view exhibits, read what we wanted for as long as we wanted. I would say the museum was well under capacity during our visit. I imagine on many weekends or holidays or where tourist season overlaps with the school year it may get pretty crowded, especially around some of the more hands on exhibits.
The main exhibit hall is called the “Hall of Matter” (La Sala de la Materia) and is laid out to cover evolution from the Big Bang forward. The room is roughly divided into four sections or themes, including the origin of physical matter, the first life, the development of symbolic intelligence and the birth of civilization. Themes touched on or exhibited in such a wide variety of ways, include gravitational waves, chaos theory, biology, mobility, neurons, intelligence and human evolution.
Some of the memorable displays that we saw included:
- Several optical illusions to interact with
- A glowing, hands on Tesla ball
- Hanging ropes to practice making standing waves
- A huge 8’x8’x6’ block of ice that one can touch – everyone wants to keep their hands on for as long as possible to melt a handprint or fingerprint into
- Dozens of amber specimens with fossilized insects inside
- A diffusion cloud chamber (particle detector) – I saw several neutrino cloud tracks in the few minutes I watched
- A couple of water wave generators to observe wave properties and effects
- A display of the progression of tools and toolmaking from the paleolithic to modern day
At the far end of the Hall of Matter lurks the Flooded Amazonian Rainforest (El Bosque Inundado/El Bosc Inundat). More than 100 living species are represented including birds, frogs, piranhas, capybaras, alligators, at least one huge, sleepy python, and at least a gajillion ants. It is even set to rain every 15 minutes. During our visit, the capybara – the world’s largest living rodent, by the way – was happily frolicking away in the water, running along the bottom of the pool and rolling around in the bottom gravel. It looked kind of fun, until we thought about what else lurked out there in the waters… The warmth and humidity of the forest felt like stepping back into Thailand or Malaysia and felt surprisingly refreshing – I think we enjoyed the feeling of reminiscing on recent travels.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience enjoying this modern, well-planned and executed museum. The scale of exhibits and exhibit space is really world-class, and the amount of interactivity is enough to keep adults and children interested and immersed in the subject material. The museum also offers an accessible planetarium; “Toca toca!” (Touch touch!), an interactive area for kids where museum staff and scientists present animals and plants from around the world and Mediterranean; “Flash” and “Clik” are two further interactive areas where museum staff work with different aged children. Flash focuses on the use of technology to highlight exploration, the environment, construction and electricity. While “Clik” uses play, observation and deduction through the senses.
How to Get There
We hopped on the immaculate L7 metro from Place Catalunya for the 10 minute ride north to the lines final stop – Av. del Tibidabo. Exiting the station, cross the street to the north – the uphill side. You can walk up hill past spotless boutique hotels and mansions, consulates and exclusive schools for a walk of about 10 minutes and half a kilometer. Probably not a walk recommended for those with difficulty walking, but never fear – one can easily catch the 196 bus across from the metro stop. It will drop you at the top of the hill near the museum entrance.
Hours (January 2015): Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm (10:00-20:00), Closed Mondays, Holidays vary
General Admission: Under 16: FREE, All others: €4
Planetarium, Toca toca!, Clik, Flash: Additional €4 each