International Specialised Expo

15/05/1992 - 15/08/1992

Christopher Colombus: The Ship and the Sea

Official Designation
Specialised International Exposition Genoa 1992

Area (ha)




The Italian city of Genoa, a major industrial port, was faced with a period of decline in the 1960s and 1970s, forcing it to look towards opportunities for redevelopment. In the 1980s, the decision was taken to organise a Specialised Expo, with the aim of bringing new opportunities to the city and promoting its image.

The 102nd session of the General Assembly of the BIE recognised the Expo project under the theme "Christopher Columbus, the Ship and the Sea". The theme was chosen as 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa. The discovery of the Americas theme was also in line with the World Expo that was organised the same year in Seville, Spain.

The Site

Celebrated Genoese architect Renzo Piano was given the task of designing the Expo site, which would connect the old harbour with the Piazza Principe in the centre of the city. Piano proposed an exhibition project that could also serve as an urban renewal scheme, unifying the old harbour’s derelict areas with the rest of the city.

The project included the construction of two permanent buildings: a large facilities centre and an aquarium with 12,000 marine species, the largest in Italy.

The centrepiece structure on the Expo site was the Grande Bigo, a monument composed of eight large masts, inspired by cargo ship derricks. Featuring a glass elevator that rises 40 metres above the ground to allow visitors to get a panoramic view of the harbour and old city, the Bigo remains a landmark in Genoa.


International participants presented exhibits related to Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas or to the nautical theme. The pavilion of the Bahamas – where Columbus first landed on reaching the Americas – displayed artefacts dating back to the indigenous Lucuyan people, as well as photographs of the spots on the island where the explorer may have first set foot.

The Japanese Pavilion proved popular with its graphic displays and a talking robot dressed in samurai clothing that explained the importance of the nautical theme to Japan. The Pavilion also featured the Yotei Maru, a ferry that previously transported train carriages between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.


The Expo successfully enabled the redevelopment of the old harbour area, which had been a priority of the local, regional and national governments. Genoa benefited greatly from the architectural improvements, as well as the construction of an underground metro line and new pedestrian areas.

The city’s aquarium remains popular to this day, attracting over 1 millions visitors per year. The Piazza delle Feste also remains a popular venue, serving as an ice rink in winter and hosting sports and artistic events in the summer months.