Courtesy Expo Zaragoza 2008
Zaragoza is set down on a dry plain by the Ebro River and the summers can be particularly hot and arid, with no rain and temperatures sometimes climbing to 40-degrees Celsius. This summer will be different, however, thanks to the creation of a man-made, 25-hectare oasis. The space will act as an interactive classroom to teach the world about the sustainable development of water—it’s part of the 2008 International Expo, the theme of which is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’.
The city was awarded the event by the International Expositions Bureau in 2004, beating out bids from Thessaloniki, Greece and Trieste, Italy. From June 14th until September 14th, the capital city of Aragon will see its population of just over half a million inhabitants swell sharply, as visitors will arrive in droves over the course of the three-month event.
Things to see
With over a hundred countries in attendance, ranging from Algeria to Yemen, there will be no shortage of international sights and sounds. And with the Expo’s extensive grounds containing 17 pavilions and plazas with ample amounts of booths and specialised spaces nestled within them, there won’t be a shortage of activities, either.
More than 3,400 performances are planned for the fair’s three-month run, including a daily parade by the Cirque de Soleil and nightly musical performances held at the newly-built Ebro River Amphitheatre. Everything from street theatre to classical theatre to cabaret will be available to see and everything from classical to pop to flamenco will be there for the listening. More educational, downtime-type activities will be held during the day for all interests and ages.
The two-storey, curved Bridge Pavilion pedestrian bridge, designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid—the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture prize—will greet visitors and carry them across the Ebro River to enter the Expo’s grounds; it is estimated that about 10,000 visitors per hour will cross the bridge.
After making their way across the 275-metre structure, visitors will come to the ‘Water, a Unique Resource’ exhibition, housed within the Bridge Pavilion. From there, they will be able to visit the pavilions of those countries exhibiting at the fair and find out their perspectives on water sustainability; exhibitions and daily talks are scheduled to be held at these pavilions. Many countries will be represented, but among those that will be missing are the US and the UK (observers have said that this is in retaliation for Spain’s failure to support the war in Iraq).
Visitors will be able to get some insight into the 2004 tsunami in south Asia in the Extreme Water Plaza, where an exhibition about the effects of tsunamis and hurricanes will be mounted. The River Aquarium, home to the ‘Waterscapes’ exhibition, is the largest of its kind in the world. It celebrates biodiversity and will be home to over 300 exotic species of aquatic life that hail from the rivers Nile, Mekong and Amazon, among others. The Digital Water Pavilion will be another Expo highlight, with its liquid curtains acting as walls that will display images, and open as somebody approaches.
Interesting scientific exhibitions, really big aquariums, and futuristic innovations aside, it is the Expo’s Water Park area that will likely attract the most visitors. With everything from a green space where children can play to bars and restaurants, a thermal spa and even a horseback riding centre, the Water Park will be a permanent addition to the city of Zaragoza after the Expo’s closure. But this will not be the only cool-down zone for over-heated Expo patrons. The waterdrop-shaped glass Water Tower will contain the ‘Water for Life’ exhibition; housing a sculpture titled Splash, it will also have a white-water canal allowing visitors to participate in water sports.
What else to do
Coinciding with the bicentennial commemoration of the Siege of Zaragoza in 1808 and the centennial celebration of the Hispano-French Exposition of 1908, this Expo is not the only thing to celebrate in this city that dates back to Roman times; outside the grounds of the fair, the city resonates with its own history.
Spain’s fifth largest city has lots of gems to lure visitors away from the Expo. Zaragoza’s Catedral del Salvador (also known as La Seo Cathedral), a UNESCO World Heritage site, has roots as early as the area’s Roman Forum and a history that is nearly as complex as it is long. With Islamic influence at the time of the cathedral’s beginnings in the late eighth century early 1100s, it is interesting to see the structure’s architectural variations, the result of a wide range of cultural influences.
Located just outside the cathedral walls, Calle Alfonso I (nicknamed ‘el Tubo’) is lined with traditional tapas bars providing a wide selection of choice. After hours, this zone turns into a nightclub party strip.
How to get there and where to stay
Zaragoza is geographically at the crossroads between cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, and Toulouse (all of which are about 300 kilometres from Zaragoza), and with the arrival of the AVE in the Catalan capital, it is now even more accessible from here.
Trains run about every hour from Sants station, and the AVE will carry Expo-goers from Barcelona to Zaragoza in an hour and a half, twice as fast as the regular train. However, the speedy journey comes at a price. Those looking at taking the AVE will pay double the cost of regular trains, with prices for the former ranging from €56.60 to €108.80 for a one-way journey.
With thousands of people guaranteed to descend on Zaragoza during the three months of the Expo, it might be worth paying extra for a day-trip by train rather than staying the night in a hotel. However, for anyone who wants to spend several days in Zaragoza, it’s advisable to book accommodation well in advance. And neighbouring towns like Alagón and Calatorao are worth considering for cheaper, and possibly less crowded, accommodation.
Zaragoza will be in the spotlight for three months during the summer, and is hoping that all of its international visitors will take home information from its Expo, becoming more conscious of where water comes from and where used water goes.