Heliopolis’ Children’s Museum
Heliopolis’ Children’s Museum is not just a school-trip destination but also a great outing for families too
By Farah el-Akkad
Museums have never been popular family outings for many Egyptians — quite a number of whom have the strong conviction that museums are only visited by foreigners anyway. The Children’s Museum in Heliopolis is proving quite the exception, gaining a reputation not only as an educational facility that targets Egyptian children but also an alternative outing destination for families.
First established by Suzanne Mubarak in 1996, the original facility was demolished and renovated in 2007 under the umbrella of the NGO Heliopolis Society when it became known as the Children’s Civilization and Creativity Center (CCC). Tremendous efforts were made to keep up with the technological developments of the 2000’s and the CCC evolved to become the first children’s museum in Egypt and the Middle East, winning the UK’s Museum and Heritage International Award in 2012, followed by the UNESCO Best Prize In Heritage in 2013.
With the aim of providing a safe environment for children and raising awareness of their identity and a sense of community work, the museum focuses on presenting historical, geographical and environmental information about ancient and modern Egypt.
The first thing that catches the eye at the entrance of the CCC is the colorful Space Pyramidion which symbolizes Egypt’s past and future, from the Pyramids to the stars. To enter the museum building, visitors must follow the historical path of the Nile river, starting with Ethiopia and the source of the river and ending at the Delta and the Red Sea. On both sides of the Nile course, children can see the vegetation and 3D models of creatures which live in and around the Nile, such as crocodiles, in addition to a butterfly garden and models of Bedouin and countryside houses. The “village” reflects the agricultural communities as they’ve developed over the years.
The museum building itself is divided into a basement and three floors and walking into each, children watch a short video introducing what’s to come on each floor. They are also encouraged to play some mind games about what they learned on each floor on their way.
The tour usually starts with the basement which looks like the inside of a pyramid. Children not only learn about the three pyramids of Giza, but also of other pyramids in Upper Egypt and the Delta in addition to who built the pyramids and their inner secrets. In the 2D art section, children learn how to trace an ancient picture and color it in.
Moving on to the 3D art area, children look at pictures that are used to tell stories in different ways. Among the renditions are celebrations of festivals, different kings such as Ramses III, as well as the various ancient gods of Egypt. Also represented are columns that look like papyrus and lotus plants growing along the Nile and solar courtyards which record the offerings made by kings to the sky and sun gods.
The other section of the basement presents Egypt’s hidden treasures such as monuments that were found in hidden chambers and valleys. Children also learn about the process of mummification and can participate in looking for hidden treasures just like real archeologists using tools for digging such as a special brush called a goofa. Afterwards, children are asked about their experience as archeologists, the objects they discovered and what they are made of. Last but not least, children learn about underwater archeology and how archeologists rescued monuments from the depths of the seas and rivers.
Visitors then climb up a flight of stairs to the ground floor which portrays the seasons of the Nile and the daily lives of ancient Egyptians performing tasks such planting, farming, building ships and temples, gathering the harvest and the ancient Egyptian farmers market. Starting with the flood season, children learn about the importance of the Nile river for the Pharaohs and how they waited for the waters to rise in addition to the different methods used for agriculture. Next up is the sowing and planting season and lastly the harvesting season during which the celebrations were held.
Moving on, children learn about Aswan’s High Dam, the pollution of the Nile and how to save it and the different sources of energy. They are taught the secrets of the Nile Valley and about its different creatures such as snakes and insects, the White Desert, Sinai and the natural beauty of the Red Sea.
The central staircase of the museum celebrates mankind’s journey of exploration from the past to the present and the future. In the center is Earth and the planets, and the path the children take follows mankind’s journey to space. In this section children learn about the rooftop shrine of the Temple of Dendera. Ancient Egyptians observed the stars and developed tools to help the stars guide them through their way in the desert. The most famous stars of the Dendera temple are the The Priest (Star Watcher in ancient Egyptian which told Egyptians the time), The Rising of Sothis (named after Isis) which marked the start of the New Year and the Dendera Zodiac Puzzle of the Greco-Roman period which, for more than 3,000 years, guided Egyptians through time and place. Children can also learn about maps, modern sciences and different Egyptian scientists such as Ibn El Nafis and El Haytham, the first Egyptian journey to space and the first plane that ever flew from Cairo to Alexandria.
The Children’s Museum is located at 34 Abu Bakr El Seddik St., Heliopolis. Ticket prices are LE 20-50. In addition to the museum displays, activities available for children are a play area and cinema.