What Was the 1900 Paris Exposition? (with 5 Amazing Attractions)

The 1900 Paris Exposition was a truly spectacular event, a World Fair like no other that unveiled a vast series of unexpected surprises.

Mar 21, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

what was the 1900 paris exposition


The 1900 Paris Exposition, also known as the Paris Exposition Universelle, or the Paris Expo, was a World Fair that took place in Paris at the turn of the century. The event was the fifth, and most adventurous World Fair to be hosted in the world. Like its sister events, this spectacular visitor attraction was a showcase for world-leading art, technology and industry, with some breath-taking and unexpected surprises on display. These ranged from architectural marvels to pop-up fairgrounds and flying machines, to steam-powered engines, introducing ingenious inventions that would go on to shape the future. In the same year, Paris hosted the Olympic Games, another huge crowd puller to the city. As intended, the 1900 expo secured Paris’ reputation for leading innovation in the modern age. Below, we look through just a handful of the many star attractions that were unveiled to the public during this large-scale and ambitious event. 


1. Fairgrounds 

The Grande Roue Ferris Wheel at the 1900 Paris Exposition


The impressive fairgrounds at the 1900 Paris Exposition were the largest anyone had ever seen, stretching out across 543 acres of land. Key locations for funfair attractions were the Trocadero, the Champ-de-Mars, and the Esplanade des Invalides. One highlight was the Grande Roue Ferris Wheel, which gave visitors breath-taking views across the World Fair, and into the city of Paris beyond. Another highlight was the moving walkways (trottoirs roulants), which contained two walkways moving at different speeds.


2. Panoramas at the 1900 Paris Exposition

Detail of the scenery for the Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama


Panoramas were a popular feature in Victorian society. These long paintings and film presentations could take visitors on a virtual 360-degree trip around space, presented on sliding or rotating screens. Among the popular panoramas at the Paris Expo were Cineorama, Mareorama, and even the Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama. Cineorama was particularly popular, simulating the experience of a hot air balloon ride over Paris through a clever combination of moving film and highly detailed painting. Meanwhile the Trans-Siberian Railway Panorama documented the journey along the legendary train journey through a series of scenic paintings of the Siberian landscape, showcased in a train carriage akin to those on the Siberian railway. 


3. Pavilions Were a Star Feature of the 1900 Paris Exposition

Illustration documenting the British Pavilion for the 1900 Paris Exposition, designed by Sir Edward Landseer Lutyens

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Pavilions were an important part of the 1900 Paris Expo. Nearly fifty countries from across the world designed their own pop-up buildings to celebrate their unique identity on an international stage. Sweden created a bright yellow and red pavilion, while the Germans modelled their contribution on a traditional beer-hall. Meanwhile, the British styled their pavilion to look like a historic Jacobean castle, and the Russians modelled theirs on the structure of the Moscow Kremlin. The Buddhist temples designed by China and Japan caught the attention of the King of Belgium, who had them transported to Belgium following the event closure. 


4. A Yellow Eiffel Tower

The gold-painted Eiffel Tower at the 1900 Paris Exposition


The Eiffel Tower was a star attraction during the Paris Exo of 1889. The tallest building in the world at the time, it remained an important cultural icon that put Paris at the center of innovative engineering. Throughout history the tower has been temporarily painted various colors of the rainbow. For this particular event, officials chose to paint the Eiffel Tower in glistening golden yellow, mesmerizing audiences near and far.


5. The Palace of Electricity Was a Star Attraction at the 1900 Paris Exposition

Illustration documenting the Art Nouveau style Palace of Electricity (Palais de l’Electrique) at the 1900 Paris Exposition


The Palace of Electricity, or the Palais de l’Electrique was one of the most talked about and celebrated attractions during the 1900 Paris Expo. The grand palace was lit up with thousands of multi-colored lamps, making it a glowing beacon of luminescent light. It embodied the increasing commercialization of electricity, conveying the exciting anticipation that it offered up to modern society. The Palace itself was built in part from elements of the Palace of the Champ-de-Mars from the 1889 Exposition, serving as a symbol of continuity between the expos from one year to the next.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.