Scribbler in Seville

Expo 92, 20 years on

Curro was the mascot for Seville's Expo 92.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening day of the Exposicion Universal 1992.

I wasn’t here for this momentous six-month event in Sevilla, a global cultural fiesta which welcomed representations from 111 countries, but I sure as hell wish I had been. Many of these nations built pabellones (pavilions) in Isla Cartuja, the site where the Expo was held, to show a microcosm of their culture and architecture, including the UK, the US and Japan. Each autonomous community of Spain also had its own pavilion.

This video (I’d start watching at 0:24) will give you an idea of the scale of Expo 92. The exhibition opened its doors to the public on 20 April 1992, closing on 12 October, Dia de Colon (Columbus Day).

The total number of visits to the Expo 92 was a staggering 42 million (41,814571 to be precise). Many Sevillanos met and married foreigners who had come to work at the Expo, returning to their native countries with them, and many extranjeros ended up staying here for good, including friends of mine.

Seville's ticket to the big time.

You can’t overstate the importance of the Expo in Seville’s development, economic and social. Before 1992, Seville was a charming, old-fashioned city in backwards Andalucia. It took four hours to drive 95km to the beach, ten to travel the 500km to Madrid by car, along single-carriageway roads. In social terms, to quote one veteran English resident, “Seville was still in the 1960s, as far as rights and respect for women and foreigners went.”

Thanks to the exhibition, the city’s infrastructure, and that of the entire region, was dragged into the late 20th century, with motorways, a new airport, new bus and train stations, and a high-speed rail service (the AVE) halving the journey time to Madrid. Six new bridges were built crossing the Guadalquivir. The attention of the world was focused on Seville, and the minds of its residents were opened up by the cultural mix that the Expo brought.

Two of the new bridges built for the Expo, linking the site on Isla Cartuja with the rest of the city. Taken from the Pabellon de Navegacion's tower.

During the Expo itself, my husband always tells me (he worked on the construction of the Canadian, French and Thai pabellones, and in restaurants during the event itself), the atmosphere was amazing – a mix of nationalities never before seen in Seville. He had hordes of people camping in the garden of his house (where we live now), with all-night parties which used to piss the neighbours off no end. He says it was like being at university again.

The Pabellon de Navegacion, an integral part of the Expo 92, which reopened earlier this year.

So what’s left of Expo these days? The Pabellon de Navegacion on the river
was an important part of the Expo, celebrating Seville’s part in the Discovery of America – the year of the Expo was no accident. It was 500 years after Columbus found America, and the theme of the exhibition was “The Age of Discovery”. This pavilion was a nautical-themed building, with replicas of the three ships of Colon, now resident in a dock near Huelva city. A tower next to the pabellon provided panoramic views of the Expo site, and the city. Both have been refurbished, and were re-inaugurated in January 2012.

La Cartuja, the Carthusian monastery and latterly ceramics factory (founded by an Englishman), which was the Expo's HQ.

And the 15th-century monastery Santa Maria de las Cuevas, on Isla Cartuja, as the headquarters of the Expo, was where Columbus stayed – it all ties in very neatly. La Cartuja, as the monastery is known, now houses an art centre, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo.

The NO8DO sculpture from the Jardines de Guadalquivir - the symbol of Seville city.

Two sites which have been restored are adjoining riverside gardens, the Jardines del Guadalquivir and the Jardin Americano. They reopened two years ago, but are not very much visited and thus provide a haven of tranquility close the city centre. Although they’re not as well maintained as they could be.

Jardin Americano, which had plants from many Latin American countries, including rare palms. The roof has various trees poking up through it.

An abandoned sculpture in the Jardines del Guadalquivir

Tomorrow there are guided tours of the remaining pavilions from the Expo. They leave every half hour from 10am-12.30 and 4-4.30pm, from the Pabellon de Europa. I’m familiar with some of them, but am hoping to go on the tour to get the full picture.

Useful links:

Guided tours of Expo 92 Pavilions
List of Expo 92 Pavilions
Jardin Americano
Monasterio La Cartuja
Pabellon de Navegacion

27 thoughts on “Expo 92, 20 years on

  1. Mad Dog

    That’s funny – I’ve been in Barcelona for a couple of days now and was thinking about it being 20 years ago that I was living here when the Olympics happened. It was quite a weird time – roads changed overnight in the last push to get everything finished on time. I can’t believe the time has gone so fast and I wish I’d gone to Expo!

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Me too – I was finishing Uni, too busy partying! Though I did got to Madrid visiting a friend who was working there on his year out. It’s amazing to think how much these events changed Spanish cities, and the people too.

  2. theartichokeadventures

    I came to live here in Valencia in 1992 and we went to Expo staying with friends in Cordoba. Quite an experience and seeing the infrastructural changes was amazing.I had been flying into Sevilla for business during 1989/90 and to see the new airport/train sattion etc as well as the amazing Expo was soemthing I will never forget.1992 was a big year for Spain with the Olympic and Expo and for me coming to live in the the suddenly fcountry of the moment Spain.

      1. theartichokeadventures

        Yep I think I have some photos at the bottom of some cupboard…snapshots predigital etc and mainly of ourselves.I must look them out.We didnt go to the Brit pavilion(I was with Spaniards!)We went to Spain,Australia,Japan that I can remember and some others that I cant.We were there for 16 hours! (We went in at 9.30/10 and left at 2. in the morning or something like that.Great day and very tiring.I do remember they didnt let us take any food or drink in(captive market!).We had to leave water etc at the door and the temp was 40C. I also remember seeing for the first time fine mist water sprinklers all around for a cooling effect.

        1. Fiona Flores Watson

          Wow, quite a day out! It’s great hearing about people’s memories of the event – did you have to queue much? I’ve heard they could be really long, hours and hours. I did the tour of the remaining pavilions on Saturday, mostly just seeing the outsides (so no queuing!!). Fascinating stuff.

  3. Frank Burns

    I gazed on this event from afar (ie. the UK) and envied those who could take time out to visit the Exposición. As you say, the fundamental theme was “El descubrimiento de las Americas” (the discovery of the Americas)…………..which, of course, was hugely controversial at the time. Most Latin American nations (and many Spaniards) took exception to the idea that their lands were “discovered” in 1492. For the indigenous communities of Latin America (of which there were thousands), the Americas were never lost or undiscovered. They viewed the whole Columbus-thing as an invasion…..which, of course, is exactly what it was.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Yes, that is a very valid viewpoint, and I had it very much in mind when I first arrived here (2003) as I had been living in South America – it was a real eye-opener to learn how much they still resent the Spanish invasion (and despoliation) of their countries. Yet they all had pavilions at Expo – a few of which are still there.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      The problem is there’s no decent map to find the pavilions, and also to explain the layout – it was all very political who went where, as I found out on Saturday. They need to do a guide to the Expo site – even just a leaflet with a map on and some info, as just wandering around you get a vague idea, but would be much more meaningful and interesting with relevant background explanation.

  4. PG

    Mmmm…timely. I just saw the film “Grupo 7”, based on the true story of how a small police unit “cleaned” the streets of so-called undesirables so that Seville would be pretty for the Expo. Not a fun movie.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Yes, I saw it mentioned in the papers a lot when it came out – I’m very curious to see it. Unfortunately, that always seems to happen in countries which are hosting major international events – South Africa for the World Cup, sure will be same in Brazil. Less usual in Europe, though – but then Seville in those days was not exactly steaming towards the 21st century in terms of social awareness and political correctness!

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  7. David Tatlock

    Major abuses by the Junta de Andalucia, the river front was ruined by massive in-lay of concrete traveling all the way into the water, poured in tiny cubes that act best as collectors of trash. Forty foot wide Franco-important esplanades, the thin metal sitting areas, broken glass everywhere, graffiti, the story of Seville written by the wrong people. This is not opinion, but the story of what happened, seen, and verified from inside that big building

  8. Olga

    Hi Fiona. I worked in Expo 92 in one of the autonomous communit’s pavilion (Castilla y León). I met a lot of people from lots of places but one of my best friends worked at the British pavilion. His name is Oliver but I don’t remember his surname, and I am trying to get in touch with him. I lost all his details. Any idea of how I can find him?? Thank you in advance.

      1. David Tatlock

        Hi again, Maybe I am repeating…I was visiting my lifelong friends ( shortly before Expo 92 opened, and remember the Junta masons slathering the long stairway down to the soupy river; came back various times, and still do, at first seeing and taking the monorail over Isla de La Cartuja and later on when the island fell silent…pretty sad in the heat and all, didn’t seem that Sevilla had any game plan for the place…I also remember, which was a scandal, private parties in and around the…bet. the gardens and the…witchy people charging extraordinary rents….

        Not sure who I am emailing, but if you are in love with Seville 92, I have two suggestions: keep track of how Seville, like other cities that have waken up, to preserve their old quarters, and kicked out the cars, or else, in one grand attempt, catalogue the World Fair as it has happened.

        On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 3:37 PM, Scribbler in Seville wrote:

        > ** > Fiona Flores Watson commented: “Hi Olga, I will ask around and see if > anyone knows/remembers Oliver – look out for my post on the Scribbler in > Seville Facebook page.” >

  9. paul daubney

    I worked in the EXPO in 92 in the American Pavillion as manager of the sporting goods store. It was a heck of a ride, some of the best memories I have ever had !

  10. David Tatlock

    glad something is going on, on the Cartuja. I went over on the cable car a long while bad, and trudged around in the unGodly heat, and the place was FORLORN. Looks like I am repeating myself. But the ejecting of cars out of central Seville was a beautiful move. Anybody still going to or in Spain should visit Gijon to see how grand downtown can be, making it accessible and beautiful for seniors…

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  13. Stephen Malone

    Seville was a life changing experience for me. As one of the Audio-Visual team at the Australian Pavilion the event was both uplifting and shattering. 9 months of very hard work and play, keeping the system running for the 42 million visitors to the site, most of whom queued for hours to visit our pavilion. So many wonderful friends and memories and who can forget Curro, the Kangaroo Pub, the Crowded House Concert at Sony Plaza, elderly ladies dancing in the evenings and dos cervza por favour.

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