Cleopatra at the California Science Center - What's There for Kids?

As Cleopatra: the Exhibition enters its last few weeks (ending Jan 6) at the California Science Center - the tour's only stop on the west coast - perhaps you're wondering whether this is an exhibit that would hold the attention of your kids. Well the good news is you don't need to be an Egyptologist to enjoy exploring this homage to Egypt's most famous woman pharaoh. Come to the Science Center for the Endeavour, but stay for the Queen of the Nile.

Two millennia after her death, Cleopatra's name is still known the world over, and yet, thanks to a few vengeful Romans and several spates of bad weather, we don't even know what she looked like. Cleopatra The Exhibition follows the successes of recent excavations and archaeological expeditions - particularly underwater ones - in pursuit of a clearer picture of the woman, both literally and figuratively. Because Cleopatra's capital city of Alexandria was destroyed by wars, fires, and finally tidal waves, this quest is particularly tricky.

The exhibition makes an immediate impact on young and old by creating a simulated underwater setting; my eight-year-old's curiosity was peaked by the dim lighting and watery ambiance from the moment he stepped in. Seeing the massive pillars, statues, and monuments on display in this environment keeps the visitor aware at all times of the effort that must have been exerted to bring these huge stones from the depths of the Mediterranean to Downtown LA. Some displays even highlight how this was accomplished, and the achievement is humbling.

Speaking of humbling, standing in Los Angeles and looking at a once great city reduced to a lost underwater mystery by earthquakes and tidal waves is pretty humbling, too.

Included with admission is an audio-tour that features dramatic readings from Cleopatra's perspective. The tour breathes life and offers context to samples of jewelry, coins, and works of art excavated from the ocean's floor and brought halfway across the world to the Science Center.

The passionate researchers who created the exhibition lay out a fascinating picture of the woman, and one much deeper and more complex than those created for us by Shakespeare, Shaw, or even Elizabeth Taylor. All of the famous portrayals of the romantic queen get their moment, though, notably in a display that compiles clips of our most famous celluloid Cleopatras all on one big screen. But interactive displays along the way reveal how limited these images are. The woman who at 17 turned Julius Caesar from foe to consort, and then did the same years later with Mark Anthony, clearly had more going for her than just a pretty face.

Speaking of that face, we can only assume that it was pretty; no reproductions of it remain. Octavius Caesar and the waves did not permit her to be preserved. One of the avid egyptologists behind the exhibition believes he is close to unearthing her tomb, though, and a video display takes us on his journey.

Depending on your child's patience for museum exhibits, you could spend anywhere from 30-90 minutes exploring the world of Cleopatra. The pseudo-underwater environment does have a calming effect that helps support quiet focus, and the visitor is definitely drawn into another world. Cleopatra The Exhibition feels quite far away from the hustle and bustle of other parts of the Science Center.

The exhibit continues through January 6, 2013. A timed ticket is required.

Adults $19.75
Children $12.75
Students (w/ ID) $16.75

Consider coupling the exhibition with an accompanying screening of the IMAX film Mysteries of Egypt.


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