Expo 92 in Seville
Seville has hosted two Exposiciones Universales (known as Expos for short), where countries from around the world built pavilions to show the best of their industry, tecnnology and culture: the first in 1929 – Expo 29; and the second in 1992, Expo 92 (note the numerical inversion).
1992 was a big year for Spain, as Barcelona hosted the Olympics, and Madrid was European Cultural Capital.
Both of Seville's Expos were intended to promote the city and encourage tourism, while displaying the city’s industrial and (multi-)cultural heritage.
The theme of Expo 92 was “The Age of Discovery”, since it celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage in 1492 and the beginning of Seville’s era of great wealth thanks to gold and other precious trading goods brought back by ships from the New World.
The total number of visits to Expo 92 was 42 million (includes multiple visits; the Expo was a popular venue for night-time events such as concerts) or 18 million visitors (presumably sales of tickets), and while it was deemed a huge success, the event cost €9.3 billion and left the city mired in debt and controversy for decades.
When and where was it held?
Expo 92 lasted for six months: from 20 April to 21 October 1992. This Expo was held in and around the Isla Cartuja, which was completely redeveloped for the event – a new city was built from scratch. La Cartuja monastery itself, where Columbus stayed when planning his voyages, was restored and housed the Pabellon Real, the Expo’s headquarters (it is now a contemporary art museum).
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?
The exhibition was conceived by the then-Spanish president, Felipe Gonzalez, who was himself from Seville. Gonzalez wanted to transform the whole region of Andalucia from a forgotten southern backwater, and bring it into the modern age. This ambitious plan, which cost €7.8 billion, included a new airport and railway station for the city, with high-speed AVE trains linking Seville with Madrid, and five bridges (see below); some of the region’s first motorways were also built. Expo 92 was also an opportunity to clean up the seedier parts of the city, including the Alameda (see Grupo 7, below).
During the six months of the Expo, daily concerts were held, featuring top classical and pop names such as the 25 Legendary Guitarists including BB King, Paco de Lucia, Brian May and Bo Diddley. Other major attractions included art displays of the nations’ finest painters, an Omnimax theatre showing IMAX films, and the Sony Plaza with its gigantic screens.
What is there still to see today?
Today the area is called Cartuja 93, and is a science and technology park. A number of national and other pavilions remain, in the northern part of La Cartuja, near Isla Magica theme park. These are located across the river from the centre of the city, a short walk from the Alameda. The area around Calles Marie Curie, Jacques Cousteau and Isaac Newton (all “discoverers” to fit with the theme) and the Camino de los Descubrimientos. Some buildings are in better repair than others; unfortunately there is no official map marking all the pavilions you can see.
To get to La Cartuja, cross the river using one of the bridges such as Pasarela de la Cartuja, which takes you to the rear entrance of La Cartuja monastery, or the Barqueta bridge. Look out especially for the beautiful Pabellon de Marruecos with white, blue and green tiles, and latticed entrance façade with arches and pillars, which now houses the Fundacion Tres Culturas; the Hungarian Pavilion, which is probably the most bizarre, like something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with its seven towers, each representing one of the country’s religions; and the Finnish Pavilion, which is an intriguing pair of buildings next to each other, one of pine and the other steel, now oxidised. For ironic historical value, the Pabellon de Europa is a stripy tower emblazoned with national colours of the European Union countries – in those days,just 12; now they’d never all fit on.
Guided tours of the pavilions are offered on an occasional basis by a group of Expo aficionados, called Associacion Legado Expo Sevilla.
Expo buildings and spaces you can visit include:
The Pabellon de Navegacion, along with its tower built on the river. This now houses a museum dedicated to oceanic exploration, with interactive multimedia exhibits such as pulling a rope to hoist the mainsail, listening to travellers’ stories, smelling the captain’s cabin and videos telling the stories of seafaring merchants and missionaries. Children will love the games, such as shooting pirates and steering a ship with a proper wooden wheel. Climb the tower (or take the lift) for great views of the city on the other side of the river, and La Cartuja nearby, especially the monastery itself. A great mix of entertainment and education, with all information panels in both Spanish and English. Also holds temporary exhibitions. Shop and café.
The Alamillo bridge designed by Spanish superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, is one of the five new bridges built for Expo, and is probably the most striking. It spans the river between the Macarena district’s uppermost part, and the Olympic Stadium and park of the same name.
The Barqueta bridge, which links the Alameda area with the island near Isla Magica. This bridge is also beautiful structure, and is worth walking across for the views along the river to the other bridges and riverside buildings.
Three open spaces: two public parks - the Jardines del Guadalquivir, between the two bridges mentioned above, which still has sculptures commissioned for the Expo, and the more open Parque Alamillo, beyond the bridge; and a botanical garden: the Jardin Americano, next to La Cartuja monastery and following the river bank.
There are restaurants and cafes on Calles Amerigo Vespuccio and Leonardo da Vinco, as well as nightclubs near Isla Magica.
Watch this video of Expo 92 which clearly shows the before and after, including the pre-restoration monastery - an island surrounded by empty land; the construction of the bridges, as well as many pavilions. The interiors of the pavilions and massive concert audiences help you to imagine what this now slightly abandoned site was like in its heyday.
Expo 92 on celluloid
If you’re interested in films set around the time of Expo 92, then Grupo 7 is worth watching. It’s about the darker side of the event: a special anti-drugs unit which was charged with ridding Seville of its drug-dealers and other low-lifes just before the exhibition opened, in areas such as the Alameda. Excellent acting and an alternative view of the impact on the city of such a global event.
Watch a trailer of Grupo 7