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Mont-Saint-Michel at MOHAI: What to know before you take kids

Ellie and Carly felt immersed in Mont-St-Michel even without the full HoloLens experience, which is limited to ages 15 and up.

Abraham Suastez


Chances are, you haven’t brushed up on your French history lately!

Fortunately, a degree in European history is not necessary to enjoy “Mont-Saint-Michel: Digital Perspectives on the Model,” a new exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

The exhibit combines 17th-century engineering with 21st-century technology to give guests a tour of one of France’s most magnificent historical sites without ever leaving Seattle.

Mont-Saint-Michel is a medieval-era monastery built on an island off the coast of Normandy. During the 1600s, the Benedictine monks living in the monastery created a 1-to-144 scale model of the island and all the structures in it. The model was so accurate and detailed that it was considered not only a work of art but also a geopolitical strategic map. Think of it as the 17th-century version of the satellite view on your favorite mapping application. The model is on loan from the Musée des Plans-Reliefs in Paris. This is the first time it has ever been on display in North America.

Twenty-first century technology makes this model come to life via Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, providing a mixed-reality experience. Once I put on the HoloLens 2, I could walk around the model on a narrated holographic tour. Images “pop out” of the model and suddenly I found myself on an island or walking through an abbey. Sacred music played as I toured the cathedral with my two daughters, Ellie, 10 and Carly, 7.

Microsoft’s suggested age for use of the HoloLens 2 is ages 13 and up; however, MOHAI has a stricter policy on the use of the HoloLens for this exhibit, ages 15 and up. But fear not! Those unable or unwilling to don the HoloLens can still walk around the encased model and use the audio and video stations around the room. Just be sure to watch out for people using the headsets. They can’t see you!

My 10-year-old daughter was not permitted to try the HoloLens 2 headset, but she enjoyed the immersive experience of stepping onto the island and learning its history with the help of posters, video and touchscreen stations. 

The exhibit runs through Jan. 26, 2020, and it is included in the regular admission price to the MOHAI, which is on Lake Union. The HoloLens 2 experience lasts approximately 15 minutes and the narration is available in French, English and Spanish. This exhibit operates via timed entry and reservations must be made on-site the day of the visit. 


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