1992, the year that put Spain on the map

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1992, the year that put Spain on the map

Opening ceremony of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Photo: EFE/Lluís Gene. (EFE)
Opening ceremony of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Photo: EFE/Lluís Gene. (EFE)

The year 1992 changed the image Spain projected to the world for good – and also the perception Spaniards had of their own country. This happened thanks to two major events: the Universal Exposition of Seville, aka Expo ’92, and the Olympic Games that took place in Barcelona.

Now we are in 2017; a quarter of a century has passed since those two all-important events. It is the silver jubilee of a magical year that told the international community Spain was a modern, innovative, futuristic country, showing we were capable of successfully organising major complex events.

Back in 1992, the Ibex 35 stock exchange was in its infancy and Spaniards were ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. And so it was a great opportunity to be on the spotlight and improve the country’s image abroad. An opportunity we did not miss.

The Barcelona Olympics and the Seville Exposition left a mark as global events while leading to the modernisation of infrastructure and equipments, even beyond the two host cities.

Seville rediscovered

On 20 April 1992, King Juan Carlos, his family and the country’s authorities attended the opening ceremony of Expo ’92 in Seville, whose theme was ‘The Age of Discovery’.

The Universal Exposition came to a close almost six months later, on 12 October – the day of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Caribbean –, having hosted a record-high number of educational and other activities.

With 112 participating countries and more than 42 million visitors (almost as many as Spanish nationals), Expo ’92 has remained the greatest exhibition of its kind to the present day, not beaten by those held afterwards, namely, Hannover 2000, Shanghai 2010 and Milan 2015.

A monumental transformation

Expo ’92 required six years’ titanic works and 9000 million euro for the modernisation of Andalusia. 6000 million euro went to Seville, which underwent major urban transformations, especially in the area of Isla de la Cartuja, where the Exposition was held. Before the Expo, this area was a huge wasteland, home to the charterhouse where Columbus planned his voyages.

The works involved diverting the river Guadalquivir (and doing away with the lock in Chapina), building four bridges to connect the island to the rest of the city, and developing the Expo premises, including 118 pavilions for countries and national or international organisations, avenues, green areas and even two means of transport: a sky lift and a monorail 10m above ground level.

From Barcelona to the world

With Expo ’92 in full swing in Seville, Barcelona dazzled the world with its own event: the Summer Olympics. The opening ceremony was one of the most moving, solemn events in the contemporary history of our country.

Prince Felipe VI – today’s King – was the flag bearer of the Spanish delegation at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium. The image is etched in everyone’s retinas. So is the ‘HOLA’ with which the people in the stadium greeted the world. Or the lighting of the Olympic flame, followed by an audience of 2000 million breathless people when paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shoot his arrow to reach the Olympic cauldron.

The people of Barcelona got really involved in the Games: 60,000 Olympic volunteers and a programme free of incidents, a high level of participation and the best possible attitude. According to press reviews, the Barcelona Olympics were among the best in the history of the Games in terms of organisation. And the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Juan Antonio Samaranch, agreed.

In sum, 1992 was a key year for Spain. A showcase our country took advantage of, boosting our image abroad and embracing domestic modernisation on the basis of efficient organisation and quality urban development models.