Exposition Universelles

France swung open its doors to the world for a grand exhibition not once, but five times from 1855 to 1900. The Exposition Universelles were meant to showcase the artistic and cultural grandeur of France. Many of Paris' structures were created expressly for these expositions, but they have grown into icons in their own right. The Eiffel Tower was unveiled for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, but many were strongly opposed to the monument at the time. Likewise, the public had harsh criticism for the Grand Palais when it was completed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, favoring the Petit Palais instead. Ironically, these once highly controversial buildings have become some of the iconography of the city. The public interacted with these spaces and more during the fairs, including the Pont Alexandre III, Les Invalides, and the Trocadero Gardens.
Millions of people still flock to these locations, but the ways they interact with the spaces have changed over the years. As the physical spaces have evolved, so has tourism, technology, and the ways that people visit these monuments. The history of the Exposition Universelles remains tucked away in these spaces and monuments, but the remnants of the fairs, and the phenomenon of exhibitions, can still be found amongst the grandeur.

Origins of the Parisian Exposition Universelles

Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, hosted the first modern international exposition in London in 1851. His creation was "born out of the hope that all the peoples of the world might live in harmony, and… to tap new markets for British…

1867 Exposition Universelle

At the height of his reign, Napoleon III declared that the second major Exposition Universelle would take place in 1867 on the Champ de Mars. Napoleon III hoped that by walking around the Champ de Mars, visitors would feel as though they were…

1878 Exposition Universelle

Following the embarrassment of the Franco-Prussian War and the horrors of the Paris Commune, the Third Republic hoped to regain its strength and portray itself as superior to the Second Republic with the 1878 Exposition Universelle. Due to the…

1889 Exposition Universelle

Following Napoleon's embarrassing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the revolt of the Commune, and the resulting turmoil from these events, France desperately needed to display its renewed greatness on an international scale. The political…

The Eiffel Tower

Centuries after its initial construction as an industrial attraction for the 1889 World’s Fair (also known as the Exposition Universelles), the Eiffel tower has now become the premier symbol of Paris. In its early years, however, the massive and…

1900 Exposition Universelle

The Universelle Exposition of 1900 was the largest and the last of five Expositions held in Paris in the 19th century. This exhibition significantly marked the turn of the century, showcasing the world’s, and especially France’s, greatest…

The Grand Palais

The Grand Palais had a far more dramatic debut than its smaller partner. While the Petit Palais was designed by a single architect, the Grand Palais was designed by three. Charles Girault, the architect of the Petit Palais, oversaw Henri Deglane,…

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III connects the Champs-Élysées, which is home to the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, to the Place des Invalides, another part of the 1900 Exposition Universelle. When it was constructed for the Exposition, the Republic government…

The Petit Palais

The Petit Palais was built as the smaller companion to the Grand Palais, but it received much more favorable reviews than its big brother (Jullian 43). When the two buildings debuted at the 1900 Exposition, many strongly preferred the Petit Palais…

Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay is not a typical museum of fine art. Its structure is different than that of any other museum in Paris. This difference can be attributed to the fact that the building’s original purpose was not as a space for art to be exhibited,…

Les Invalides

Les Invalides, or the Hôtel National des Invalides, stood on the edge of the Seine long before it was used for the Exposition Universelles of Paris (Lewis). Les Invalides was originally built for the housing and care for disabled veterans (Lewis).…

Palais de la porte Doree

In 1931, the Palais de la porte Doree was constructed for the International Colonial Exhibition that was held in the same year. The Palais was meant to house the Museum of the Colonies, which recounted the imperialistic aims of the westernized world.…

Palais de Tokyo

During the 1937 Exposition Universelle, a sense of optimism existed throughout the entire event following the recovery from World War I and a belief that following peace would be lasting. Many felt that the exhibition was a part of a "dawning of…

A Monumental View: The Trocadéro Plaza

Though it has been modified and restored in structure, today’s Trocadéro Plaza remains firmly rooted in its purpose. Built in 1878 for use and display in the 1937 World’s Fair, the Trocadéro Palace is the only original building to have survived that…