Seville, with its cobbled streets and the largest cathedral in the world, is the pin-up of medieval European cities. However, there is an alternative Seville that tourists tend to overlook.
In 1992, the city hosted the World’s Fair, and a 530-acre site of one-time fields became home to strange looking pavilions dedicated to 100 of the world’s nations, as well as themes such as ‘The Future’, ‘Discovery’, ‘Nature’ and so on. Over six months, 40 million people visited the show grounds. But Expo ’92 left the city with huge debt, financial scandals, and a site no one knew what to do with.
Some of the buildings were dismantled, but huge amounts are still just sitting there, derelict and overgrown, just across the river from the city centre. The most noticeable today is a huge scale replica of a space rocket, visible far and wide.
An attempt to turn part of the site into a business park has been successful, but is far from comprehensive. This has left surreal ageing structure rubbing up against modern offices.
Seville has had bad luck with World’s Fairs. It hosted one in 1929, which might have been a success had the Great Depression not happened to coincide with it. The resulting ‘Plaza de Espana’ did feature as Naboo in Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. So there is that.
The World’s Fair phenomenon started with London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, and spread across the world over the coming 150 years. The 1893 expo persuaded the world that Chicago had risen from the great fire, and the ‘White City’ built for the fair inspired the ‘city beautiful’ movement that later found proponents in Hitler and Mussolini. Paris 1900 was responsible for the spread of art nouveau across Europe after exposing 50 million visitors to new French styles. Montreal 1967 led to one of the world’s most famous modernist housing developments.
They’ve not always been successful — New Orleans 1984 declared bankruptcy due to low attendance. However, at the very least they’ve usually left a strange relic or two, like Brussels’ 1958 ‘atomium’.
Fancy attending a world fair yourself? Book for Astana, Kazakhstan, 2017 now.
Words and photos by Andrew Hyams