The XIX century showed big changes in Barcelona. Old city was stacked and walls were removed to enlarge it out of the former limits. Catalan region was also the engine of the Industrial Revolution in Spain, and the Barcelona's bourgeoisie started to test its power thanks to its great relation with Spanish Monarchy after the First Republic (1868-1874) ended.
During the last 150 years (1860-nowadays), Barcelona, had used different international events to develop big urban renovations and transformations in the city. The 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition was the first of the events that were held by the city in the last years of the XIX century.
The Universals Expositions were considered at that moment the most important event to be organized by a city around the world. Paris and London held it several times since 1851. This context pushed the city to become a candidate for hosting the event.
The huge Old Citadel, built during the XVIII century, dominated Barcelona from the north during more than 100 years. The Spanish army gave the control of the land back to the local institutions, and it was finally demolished. La Ribera district which was very affected by the construction more than a century ago, had the best of the opportunities to restore its pride. This big portion of land was used to build new venues and facilities for the Universal Exposition some of them still existing.
The Event was held from 20th of May to 9th of December 1888 and was inaugurated by the King Alfonso XIII. More than 27 countries had representation, with more than 12.000 exhibitors around the World. The Exposition was an impressive and astonishing success hosting more than 2 million visitors.
"L'Arc del Triomf", a majestic Neo-Mudéjar triumphal arch, with its 30 meters tall, was the perfect gateway to get access to a 50 meters wide avenue (Passeig de Lluis Companys) which directed the visitors to the different exhibition venues. The main palace, called Palau de la Indústria, hosted some of the international delegations, and after the event was demolished. In its place Barcelona's actual zoo was built after the Exposition was finished.
The Exposition claimed also the interest of some of the still unknown iconic Modernism architects as Antoni Gaudí, who designed the hydraulic project of the main Cascade and the Compañía Transatlántica Pabilion, and Lluis Domènech i Muntaner who designed El Castillo de los Tres Dragones, neo-gothic building which hosts the actual Zoology Museum and the International Hotel, a temporary planned building which was constructed in only 53 days to accommodate the foreign visitors.
During the Universal Exposition some other events were organized in the city, such as congresses, concerts and theatre plays, among others.
After the Exposition was officially finished in December 1888, Barcelona showed a great and efficient organization capacity. Biggest part of the city was deeply transformed. Despite most of the constructions were demolished and removed due its temporary-oriented usage, some of them are still present in the city.
Great part of the territories used by the Pabilions, Exhibition Palaces and venues, gave way to other facilities to be fully integrated in a daily basis usage by its citizens. The main park of the city called La Ciutadella (Citadel) become the principal lung of Barcelona, along as the zoo. Both are still present in the XXI century city life.
The maritime facade of the old city was also drastically changed. El Moll de la Fusta, the long avenue which joins Las Ramblas with La Ciutadella park, was inaugurated during the event along as Columbus statue which still reigns over us.
The event supposed a big transformation for the city, not only from a construction point of view but also helping the mentality, that radically changed. Although there were some claims by part of the population against the organization and the workers’ conditions, most of the population felt that Barcelona could face the most ambitious targets that other cities were facing. New trends coming from Europe entered in the city. The mentality started to change and during the next 20-30 years, in the dawn of the XX century a new cultural boom took place in the capital of the Catalan Region.
Barcelona 1888 Universal Exposition was the first event which deeply transformed Barcelona, becoming the seed of the city that we know nowadays.