Zaragoza

You think Zaragoza, you think… well, you may not think very much at all. But that might start to change as we approach June 14, when Spain’s fifth largest city hosts “the biggest water festival on earth.” That’s how organizers of Expo Zaragoza 2008 aim to get your attention (even though celebrants of Thailand’s New Year might beg to differ). Still, it’s a sexier, if not more controversial, way to sell a pow-wow dedicated to “water and sustainable development” — especially in a country now facing its worst drought in a century.

If we were to drink the promotional kool-aid, we’d tell you that the city of 700,000 is to welcome five, no six, actually make that seven million, visitors over the three-month convocation-slash-fiesta. If nothing else, this year’s expo (they’re held internationally every three years) should finally put Zaragoza on the map: this is, after all, the same itinerant event that came to Paris in 1859 and gave birth to the Eiffel Tower. Plus, if Zaha Hadid builds your town a new bridge, you can expect people to come.

Zaragoza
Zaragoza
ZaragozaSet almost equidistantly between Spain’s three big cities — Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia — Zaragoza is now reachable by the new AVE high-speed rail link. And Hadid’s Bridge Pavilion (pictured) is what connects the city with the grounds of the Expo. The spectacular structure straddles the River Ebro, from which it takes its inspiration and form (think swirls of fiber-glass and concrete evoking a gladiola opening and closing). But as well as a footbridge, it will also double as an indoor exhibition space, and is likely to become a major landmark alongside Zaragoza’s UNESCO Heritage hits like San Pablo church and the Aljafería Palace.
Zaragoza

Zaragoza
Zaragoza
Expo 2008 will also unveil Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium, showcasing the world’s great rivers (say hello to Amazonian piranha, giant Nile crocodiles and Mekong snakes), as well as a 250-foot Water Tower (whose base is shaped like a water droplet). Bob Dylan — who’ll play live here on June 24 — has recorded a new version of Hard Rain, while Cirque de Soleil provides the daily entertainment with a new show, Awakening of the Serpent. That’s in addition to over 3,000 performances by other artists. Just as well, then, that the schedule is running on Spanish time: for 90 days straight, the party won’t wind down until 3am.

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