EXPO '98

   Portugal's world's fair, held from May to October 1998, set in Lisbon. Designed to commemorate and celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's 1498 discovery of an all-water route to India, this was an ambitious undertaking for a small country with a developing economy. The setting of the exposition was remote eastern Lisbon, along the banks of the Tagus estuary. To facilitate logistics, Portugal opened a new Metro station (Oriente) for the Expo and the new Vasco da Gama Bridge, just northeast of the site. More than 10 million visitors, many of them from abroad but a large proportion from Spain and Portugal, arrived at the site by Metro, bus, taxi, or car and were guided by signs in three languages: Portuguese, Spanish, and English. To the dismay of Francophones, the choice of English and Spanish reflected both the nature of the globalization process and Portugal's growing connections with Europe and the wider world.
   The theme of Expo '98 was "The Oceans, Heritage for the Future," and the official mascot-symbol was "Gil," a cartoon characterization of a drop of ocean water, based on the suggestion of schoolchildren from the small town of Barrancos. Somewhat in the spirit of Disney's Mickey Mouse, "Gil" reflected cheeriness, but his message was serious, alerting the public to the fact that the oceans were endangered and fresh drinking water increasingly in short supply for a burgeoning world population. Among the outstanding structures at Expo '98 was the Pavilion of Portugal, designed by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, and the Pavilion of the Oceans or the Oceanarium (which remained open to the public after the exposition closed), which was designed by an American architect.
   Despite the general success of the fair, critics gave mixed reviews to the historic commemoration of the Discoveries facets of the effort. No vessel from Vasco da Gama's 1497-99 famous voyage was reproduced at the fair's dockside exhibit—although there was a 19th-century sailing vessel and a reproduction of one of the vessels from Christopher Columbus's first voyage, constructed by Portuguese in Madeira—nor was there much else on Vasco da Gama in the Pavilion of Portugal. Instead, visitors were impressed with a multimedia show based on knowledge of a Portuguese shipwreck, a 17th-century nau, found by archaeologists in recent years. The sound and light show in this lovely space was magnificent. The most popular exhibits were the Oceanarium and the Utopia Pavilion, where lines could be hours long. Despite the fact that Expo '98 made only a weak effort to attract visitors from outside Europe, the general consensus was that it was a successful enterprise, unique in Portugal's record of historic and contemporary expositions since 1940.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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