The 1888 Barcelona Exposition got underway on May 20th, with 30 countries participating. And since it took place mere months after Alfons XII’s death, the event was presided over by his son and heir, three-year-old King Alfons XIII. The city’s greatest architects—men like Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas—ensured that the trip would leave an indelible mark on every attendee. And the manic pace with which it was organized would be remembered, 100 years later, during the buildup to the 1992 Olympics. In the Catalunya Barcelona documentary series, the 1888 International Exposition is discussed in episode 1, Tear Down the Wall.
The exhibition of 1888 was, on one hand, presented as a great success, as Barcelona’s great transformation, but not everyone agreed. Valenti Almirall didn’t agree at all. Why? Because it was leveraged by the Spanish government in Madrid. This can be observed in the sculptural frieze atop Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. It was the main entrance to the exhibition. Barcelona is represented through a beautiful, cheerful feminine figure, and, next to it, there’s Mrs. Spanish Castile grabbing her arm, as if to say, “You’re mine. You’re not going anywhere.” A lot of people noticed it, and one of them was a young writer named Emili Vilanova. He wrote a very funny story called “Falòrnies”. It was set in 1950 and it explained the arrival of Castile’s ambassador to Barcelona. Hence, an independent Catalunya, in 1950. We are running late. The big change, as a result of the Exposition of 1888 was that it kicked off Catalan modernism. If anything about Barcelona’s architecture– and not just within the Eixample neighborhood– deserves praise, it’s the result of this exposition. In addition, the science behind construction was changing rapidly. The great hotel of the exposition, which was located on Moll de Fusta, contained 1000 rooms, and was built in three months. That’s a lot for the time. Domènech i Montaner built the hotel, and the restaurant of the exhibition, now called Castell dels Tres Dragons. And he built others, like Hospital de Sant Pau and El Palau de la Música, all important.
Enric Cobo discusses the political complexities surrounding the 1888 Exposition.
Well, the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition is a historical milestone. It’s an event that catapults Barcelona to the world stage. It’s important to point out that universal expositions began in 1850, in London. Next came Paris, Amberes, Philadelphia, I think…and then Barcelona in 1888. It’s an attempt to present great events and scientific discoveries to the world. The most acknowledged innovation is the introduction of electricity to urban society, and economic life. Hence the lighting of Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain. It was an Exposition that brought to Barcelona around 400,000 people. However, the means of transit and communication were far from perfect. They were confusing, and impacted Attendees’ movements. Incidentally, the Exposition occurred just as a period of social strife was ending. The triennium during the 1860s, a liberal revolution put a strain on the monarchical system. The liberal system was at odds with the more conservative policies. Ten years after this important confrontation, the 1888 Exposition was held. It served as a meeting point for the conservative and constitutional monarchists. The monarchs wished to rally around the more conservative Catalans. They encountered a Catalan bourgeoisie which wished to project an international vision of Barcelona. The constitutional monarchs, indirectly, leveraged this, offering their support to Catalunya. So this was at the root of the huge debate over what was on display. One one side, the devotion to technological innovation. Public figures from around the world gathered. Barcelona was promoted. And, in exchange, an agreement was reached with a constitutional monarchy that, a few years earlier, had been a tough adversary, seeking reprisals against this more liberal Catalunya, with its social demands and policies. There was controversy in that. On the one hand, we are getting beyond a period of intense tension with the state and monarchy. With the exhibition, there is an attempt at reconciliation. Yet there remains a population segment that does not recognize this alliance, that seeks to undermine it, that doesn’t support the holding of the exhibition. But, over time, with the passage of 100 years, this exhibition is viewed as a huge success, affording Barcelona international awareness, providing the city the opportunity to unveil and demonstrate the proper use of electricity.
Ramon Alberch discusses the importance of the 1888 International Exposition in Barcelona.
The 1888 exposition is important. Barcelona holds two universal expositions, one in 1888 and one in 1929. The one in 1888 most affects the area around Montjuïc, and several buildings are erected. Back then, in 1888, a Universal Exposition embraced two contradictory principles. What, today are called, temporary expositions that are built and then torn down. Sevilla, more recently, wished to preserve much of what they’d build, but in the end, half had to be demolished because so many buildings remained unoccupied. but in the end, half had to be demolished because so many buildings remained unoccupied. But back then, the idea was to build things and repurpose them. The Montjuïc Palance is, today, the National Art Museum of Catalunya. Some of the facilities are now museums; others are barracks; others schools. It triggered an enormous amount of construction, which is why one of the first great waves of immigration comes for the Universal Exposition in 1888, when suddenly, in a few years, they must build. Things aren’t built inexpensively. Brick is laid. It’s solid. Modern. In that sense, it’s among the city’s first pushes toward modernization. It creates numerous jobs, inspires economic activity, and the refurbishment of parts of the city that weren’t put together well. The whole area of Montjuïc, in that case, is reborn as a new [city] center. Buildings are erected that, even today, remain in perfect condition, and support public use.
Olga Schmid discusses the impact the 1888 Barcelona Exposition had on the citizens of the city.
The 1888 Exposition is held in Ciutadella. It’s an important change for the city, because that entire area had been a military citadel. That citadel, in a way, had been thrust upon the people, and they didn’t like it. It was, in a way, invasive, and now, in taking it back, there was much pleasure. I understand that it was a great success. Some beautiful buildings were erected; some of which, are still standing. Others were temporary, as is often the case in many universal expositions. They are made so that they will last for the exposition and then are dismantled. But I understand that some were fabulous. I think that the city, with that, evolved. It recovered and boasted new buildings: the greenhouse, the ombracle, the zoology museum and the whole park of the Ciutadella.
Frieze atop Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf.
Barcelona Universal Exposition – Model Church interior
Boats gathered in Barcelona port to celebrate the 1888 Barcelona Exposition.
General plan and illustrations of the main buildings of the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition.
Opening ceremony of Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888.
Hotel Internacional, created by Domènech i Montaner.
View of Gaudí’s pavilion of the Transatlantic Company Pabellón de la Compañía Trasatlántica
View of 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition.
Aerial View of 1888 Exposicion Universal Barcelona
Castle of the Three Dragons Barcelona Exposition of 1888.