BEIRUT: The national museum in Beirut is widely accepted to be the only real museum in the capital – the area where it lies is known simply as “museum” in Arabic.
Solidere security guards, when asked for directions to the children’s science museum, told me I was in a completely wrong area of town.
Not so. Tucked around a few hidden corners in the labyrinthine Beirut Souks is Planet Discovery, a children’s science museum.
The only permanent such museum in Lebanon, the center originally opened in 1999, but moved to its current spacious venue a couple of years ago.
Open every day of the week, Planet Discovery – which was created in collaboration with La Cite des Sciences et de L’industrie, La Villette in Paris – has a focus on science, with permanent exhibitions on everything from the life cycle of the ant, the five senses, the binary code and outer space.
The vast museum is minimally decorated in cool whites, brought to life with colorful interactive displays and exhibits. At some points, the floor, several storys above the ground, is replaced with glass, allowing for a view down to exposed sections of the original souks.
In the soap and bubbles section, children (or adults) can step into a ring of washing up liquid before becoming ensconced in a huge, human-sized bubble. In the “unfinished house,” a partially completed building, children must work together – wearing hard hats and high-vis vests – to operate the “machinery” and finish the mini development project.
There are also sections on communication – from the carrier pigeon to the Internet – with submarine-style communications tunnels for children to try, as well as physics, fossils (from Jbeil) and several sections on the human body.
The current special exhibition is the human puzzle, which includes a life-sized plastic human body with removable body parts, and a focus on the invention of aspirin, including information about the life of Felix Hoffman, the German chemist who developed the first synthesized aspirin, inspired to do so by his ill and suffering father.
“We like to teach children that whatever you learn in science or maths, it is applicable to your daily life,” says Aline Sleiman, operations manager at the museum.
Open every day of the year – except for New Year’s Day – the museum welcomes families and school visits, and the interactive exhibits, though geared toward children, are also designed for “all from the age of 2 to 99,” Sleiman says.
Despite the scientific focus there are also special workshops on sculpture and painting, and puppetry shows held every week. There is also a crèche for younger children, should parents want to do some uninterrupted shopping.
Over both Easter weekends the museum will run chocolate-making workshops for children.
Entrance is LL10,000 for each child. Planet Discovery, Souk Ayyas, Beirut Souks, Downtown. 01-980-650/60 ext. 3440/1. Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m and Saturday-Sunday 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.