Landmarks. We often talk about them as a selling point for various cruise destinations and with good reason. They’re the focal point for tourists’ excursions and offer us the chance for some classic photo opportunities. Where they come from is often something we find out more about when we visit them but it may surprise you to learn that some of them were not necessarily built to last, even though they clearly have. These ‘temporary’ landmarks were built with a specific focus in mind – to be the landmark for the world fair that a particular city was hosting that year.
What’s a World’s Fair?
World’s fairs, sometimes known as world expositions – or ‘expos’ for short – are large-scale public exhibitions which are held all over the world and have been so since the first one was held in London, in 1851. The first ones were all about show-casing industrialisation, technological advancements and inventions. After that, it was all about broadening our horizons and encouraging more cultural understanding. The late 80s saw expos swing more towards countries ‘branding’ themselves and putting themselves clearly on the world map. Whatever their intended purpose, a large number of remarkable buildings constructed during expos have stood the test of time and the good news is, you can visit some of the most famous while on a cruise.
World’s Fair landmarks
The Eiffel Tower – Paris
It’s one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, but believe it or not, the Eiffel Tower only came about as a result of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Back then, it was the tallest building on the planet and though some ridiculed his efforts, engineer Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece became one of the most recognisable structures on Earth and he must’ve felt justifiably proud when he climbed the 1,710 stairs to the top on the day it opened.
The Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco
Another of the world’s landmark giants – this is the most photographed bridge in the world and was the talking point of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. As you may have guessed from the name, it wasn’t constructed purely for the event and had an obvious practical function, but it became the focal point for it and a towering advertisement for Western engineering and was at the time the longest suspension bridge ever built.
The Unisphere – New York
The product of another American expo, the Unisphere was smaller in scale but just as big when it came to Western Symbolism. Built specifically for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, we got the Unisphere, which was the work of landscape architect Gilmore D Clarke. At 140 feet tall, it was at the time the largest constructed globe in existence and is still an iconic landmark today.
The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc – Barcelona
Though it might sound like the title of a 1950s B-movie, this ingenious structure appeared on the world’s stage in time for the 1929 Great Universal Exhibition in Barcelona. In a city more associated with the many works of Antoni Gaudi, this was an altogether different structure, consisting of 3,000 water jets and 4,000 lights. Today, you can still see the fountain in action – now with added music – when you visit the city.
The Atomium – Brussels
It was the start of the age of atomic power when Brussels Expo ’58 happened, so what better to mark the festival than a giant atomic structure which straddled the road? It consists of nine different spheres, each 60 feet across – which are inter connected. Today, you can visit it and explore a number of them. One is all about the Expo itself while another is restaurant which offers some fantastic views of the city.
China Art Palace – Shanghai
The most recent World’s Fair structure on the list, the China Art Palace really does live up to its name. These days, its home to 27 exhibition halls and 1,400 pieces of art, so you need a day just to get a passing glance at everything there. One particular highlight is ‘Along the River During Qingming Festival’ which is a piece of digital art depicting an ancient scroll which was one of the focal points of the original Expo.
The Space Needle – Seattle
Back in the USA now for this one – another of the country’s most famous towering structures. Living up to its name, it looks very ‘science fiction’ and was built in for the 1962 World’s Fair, very probably influenced by the 1950s UFO trend. Today, just as then, the top of the 605-foot structure is home to a restaurant and the best views of the city.
Canada Palace – Vancouver
Moving further up the West Coast into Canada now for my penultimate Expo landmark. Jutting out into the city harbour, it looks a bit a tall mast sailing ship crossed with the Sydney Opera House and was built for Expo 86. These days it is used as a hotel, festival venue and appropriately, a cruise ship terminal, so if your Canadian cruise calls at the city, you’ll be guaranteed a sighting of it as it’s one of two terminals in the city’s port.
The Millennium Dome – London
Back home for our final expo landmark – the much maligned but ultimately enduring Millennium Dome. It was of course, built for the 2000 Millennium Festival and though, as most of us will remember, it suffered a bit of bad press at the time, but today it lives on as one of the city’s premier concert venues and also as an important sporting venue, too; playing an important role in the 2012 Olympics.