Immersive ‘Beyond King Tut’ exhibition opens Friday at Del Mar Fairgrounds

A view of the national touring exhibition "Beyond King Tut," at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
A visitor walks through the national touring exhibition “Beyond King Tut,” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The exhibition opens Jan. 27 and features projection-mapped rooms.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The walk-through show at the Wyland Center, featuring educational displays and projection-mapped rooms, was co-created by the National Geographic Society


Sometime later this year, the $1 billion, 20-years-in-the-making Grand Egyptian Museum will open by the Great Pyramids on the Giza Plateau near Cairo, Egypt.

That’s great news for global travelers, who will be able to see all in one place the national collection of tomb paintings, sarcophagi, sculpture and artifacts from ancient Egypt, including the treasures from the tomb of king Tutankhamun. But it also means that the famous “King Tut” artifacts — too valuable and fragile to travel safely anymore — will never be seen in the U.S. again.

But begining today, Jan. 27, San Diego County residents can see the treasures up close in an immersive exhibition about the boy king, who briefly ruled Egypt 3,300 years ago. Created in partnership with the National Geographic Society, “Beyond King Tut” is being presented through March in the Wyland Center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

A view of the burial room in the national touring exhibition "Beyond King Tut."
A view of the burial room in the national touring exhibition “Beyond King Tut,” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The exhibit opens Friday, Jan. 27.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Similar to the immersive painting-themed show “Beyond Van Gogh,” which had an extended run last winter at the Wyland Center, “Beyond King Tut” is a walk-through exhibition where films and animations are projected on the walls and floors of the building. The films tell the story of King Tut, as well as the gods the ancient Egyptians worshipped and how the Egyptians buried their pharaohs in splendor, believing they would have an even better life in the afterworld.

The Van Gogh show was mostly projections and music, but the King Tut show has several hands-on exhibits. There’s a large re-creation of a senet board (a board game found in Tut’s tomb) that visitors can play. There are stamping stations where people can stamp King Tut’s cartouche (a design of his name in heiroglyphics) and a separate-ticket “Enter the Tomb” virtual reality experience that takes the headset-wearer through the tomb to see the items as they were first discovered.

And where Van Gogh’s life story was told on written panels at the beginning of the exhibit, visitors to the Tut exhibit can use their smartphone and earphones to hear educational audio recordings in each room of the exhibit that can be accessed via QR codes. The English audio is voiced by Fredrik Hiebert, an archaeologist and National Geographic explorer. The Spanish translation was recorded by Rudy Acosta of San Diego’s Entravision.

A view of the national touring exhibition "Beyond King Tut" at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
A view of the national touring exhibition “Beyond King Tut” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Thursday. The exhibition opens Friday, Jan. 17, and features projection-mapped rooms.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Compared to some of ancient Egypt’s other rulers — including the warrior Tuthmose, the nation-builder Ramses and the artistically minded Amenhotep — King Tut had an undistinguished rule. The son of the unpopular Akhenaten, Tut ruled for just eight or nine years until his death, possibly from malaria, at 19.

What made Tut the world’s most famous pharaoh was that his tomb was discovered completely undisturbed by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Until then, most royal tombs uncovered by explorers since the 1700s were found to have been looted up to 2,000 years before. As a result of the pristine nature of the Tut tomb’s contents, a much clearer picture of his life and his fabulous wealth could be studied by scientists and shared with the public.

Tut’s treasures are still considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history. They include Tut’s mummy in a gold-leaf-painted sarcophagus, a solid gold funeral mask, chariots, jewelry, furniture, statues, paintings, burial implements, food, wine, sandals and loincloths.

A digital image of King Tutankhamun's gold funerary mask in "Beyond King Tut."
A digital image of King Tutankhamun’s gold funerary mask in the national touring exhibition “Beyond King Tut,” at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Following Carter’s discovery 101 years ago, Tut-mania swept the world in the late 1920s. It resurged in the United States in the 1970s, when the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” artifacts exhibit visited several U.S. cities. Millions of people lined up at every stop to view the treasures. Since then, Tut’s tomb items have rarely left Egypt.

“After the return of King Tut’s treasures to Egypt, ‘Beyond King Tut’ brings together the all-stars of immersive art and the National Geographic Society to present a fascinating story in a whole new way, with a multi-sensory journey. Guests will get to experience the splendor of Egypt all around them, then take an imagined voyage with us to the Ancient Egyptian afterlife,” said show producer Mark Lach, in a statement.

To prepare local visitors and school groups for their visits, National Geographic has created a free, downloadable 23-page guidebook for teachers and parents on the exhibition’s website at It features maps of ancient Egypt, information about the country’s ancient history, its pharaohs and ruling dynasties, King Tut’s life, the tomb’s discovery and the items and wall paintings found inside.

‘Beyond King Tut’

Timed entry tickets: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays (last entry at 7 p.m.); 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (last entry 8 p.m.). Through March 26

Where: Wyland Center at Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar

Tickets: $37.50-$53.50, general; $28-$33, students (with valid ID and seniors (65+); $21.99-$26.99, children 5 to 15