International Specialised Expo

22/05/1998 - 30/09/1998

The Oceans: a heritage for the Future

Official Designation
Lisboa Expo’98 – 1998 Lisbon World Exposition

Area (ha)



Expo 1998 Lisbon – recognised by the BIE General Assembly on 8 June 1994 – was organised by Portugal as a global gathering dedicated to the oceans on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India. With the theme “The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future”, the Expo reaffirmed Portugal’s readiness to foster positive action in favour of the stewardship of the oceans and their limited resources, while also serving as a motor for the revitalisation of Lisbon’s eastern riverfront.

Placing the ocean at the centre of discussions

Taking place within the context of multiple celebrations of European discoveries, the Organisers of Expo 1998 Lisbon sought to mark these commemorations with an eye towards the future. Given the increasing awareness of the health of the oceans and growing pressure on marine life, the Expo’s objective was to propose a new ethical framework in the way that humanity interacts with the ocean.

“The Oceans: A Heritage for the Future” furthermore chimed with the global dynamic in favour of protecting the ocean, as demonstrated by the UN General Assembly’s resolution proclaiming 1998 as the International Year of the Ocean.

In order to address the theme in a thorough and internationally relevant way, four sub-themes were conceived:

  • Knowledge of the Seas, Resources of the Oceans;
  • The Oceans and Planetary Equilibrium;
  • The Oceans and Leisure;
  • The Oceans, Source of Artistic Inspiration.

A project of urban renewal

From its earliest stages, Expo 1998 Lisbon was conceived as a strategic project that combined the organisation of an Expo with the urban regeneration of a large part of eastern Lisbon, situated along the banks of the Tagus river. The Expo was at the centre of a major improvement programme to transform a polluted former industrial area into a multi-use residential, commercial and cultural neighbourhood with plentiful green spaces and access to public transport. The development of a 350-hectare area, today known as Parque das Naçōes, was subject to a series of land use plans relating to future urban use, thus closely tying the preparation of the Expo with the needs of Lisbon and its residents.

Alongside the development of the Expo site and the surrounding area, transport infrastructure was improved with the inauguration of the 17-km long Vasco da Gama bridge and the renovation of the Ponte 25 de Abril. The Gare do Oriente station, designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened at the main entrance to the Expo site, creating a multimodal transport hub that connected it to metro, rail and bus networks from across Lisbon and the wider region. Green and leisure infrastructure were also a major part of the Expo-related development, including the creation of the 100-hectare Parque do Tejo, the Utopia Pavilion venue (today the Altice Arena) and the Ocean Pavilion (today the Oceanário).

A site at one with the sea

The Expo site, which covered 70 hectares along the banks of the Tagus river, was characterised by its pleasant open spaces, water features and works of art. With the larger-scale urban regeneration plan emphasising sustainability, the site was conceived on a pedestrian scale, with visitors able to wander easily between its various zones or traverse the site in a Cable Car connecting the Nautical Exhibition with the 145-metre high Vasco da Gama Tower.

The largest and most eye-catching pavilions on the site were the thematic pavilions, which offered visitors informative and interactive exhibits in relation to the Expo’s theme. The Knowledge of the Seas Pavilion and the Future Pavilion offered visitors descriptive and educational journeys into the depths of the oceans, while the Virtual Reality pavilion made use of the latest technologies to take visitors on an immersive discovery of the virtual ‘Oceânia’ civilisation. At the centre of the site, rising from the river, was the Peter Chermayeff-designed Oceans Pavilion, the largest aquarium in Europe when it opened, and which throughout the duration of the Expo welcomed over 3 million visitors keen to discover the 200 marine species it hosted.

One of the most architecturally stunning features of the Expo site was the Portugal Pavilion designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, which featured a remarkably thin canopy creating a venue space that was used for high-level events such as National Day ceremonies.

A global forum

Portugal’s stated aim when hosting Expo 1998 was to stage “the most universal exhibition” by inviting as many countries as possible to participate and be part of a veritable forum on the oceans. As a result, 146 countries and 14 international organisations participated in the Expo, a record number of participants at the time.

With each participating country having their own unique relationship with the ocean yet sharing the same concern for the stewardship of the seas, visitors were offered a wide array of experiences. The pavilion of the Netherlands recounted the country’s epic and longstanding relationship with the North Sea, with models of Dutch ships, displays of land reclamation schemes and exhibits showcasing electricity produced from offshore wind farms. In the United States’ pavilion, interactive exhibits included live sea hares used for medical research, an iceberg, and live-tracking of a whale in the Atlantic. Lebanon and Greece showcased their long-standing ties to seafaring by creating replicas of ancient vessels, while landlocked Switzerland addressed the theme by drawing attention to the four major rivers that have their origins in the Swiss Alps.

Participants played a major role in the Expo’s lively cultural line-up, with a total of 1,500 art exhibitions, cultural events and shows staged by participating countries. With 17 performance areas (espace scénique) dotted around the site, the whole Expo was a spectacle, offering visitors a choice between classical and contemporary music, urban dance, jazz, fado, circus acts, and much more. In addition, the Dive into the Future festival took place in several venues around Lisbon during the months of July and August, spreading the Expo’s forward-looking energy throughout the host city.


On 30 September 1998, having received over 10.1 million visits, Expo 1998 Lisbon closed its gates. The end of the Expo gave way to the reconversion of the site into Parque das Naçōes, a modern city district with residential areas, a shopping centre and numerous restaurants, bars and visitor attractions. Key features of the Expo form the core of the modern neighbourhood: the oceanarium is one of Lisbon’s most popular attractions, the cable car offers views over the Water Gardens and the river, and the former Utopia pavilion welcomes large-scale events, including the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. The success of the urban rehabilitation of the area, with a focus on investment in infrastructure and design of public space, served as an example for authorities, and several urban regeneration programmes in Portugal have used it as an inspiration.

Beyond its urban impact, Expo 1998 Lisbon spread knowledge about the protection of the oceans, offering a wide array of scientific education to its millions of visitors and increasing awareness further afield through media outreach. With the Expo receiving 38 visits from heads of state and 35 Prime Ministers and deputies, it was also a truly international forum to further dialogue on the crucially important question of the management of the seas.