This year the six-month exhibition, held under the slogan Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, began on 1 May and 145 countries were represented. Of those, 54 countries were represented with national pavilions and the others were in clusters or small expositions. Visitor interest was so high that already, within the first month, the exhibition’s management decided to extend the Expo’s working hours until midnight at weekends.This year the six-month exhibition, held under the slogan Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, began on 1 May and 145 countries were represented. Of those, 54 countries were represented with national pavilions and the others were in clusters or small expositions. Visitor interest was so high that already, within the first month, the exhibition’s management decided to extend the Expo’s working hours until midnight at weekends.
Azerbaijan and the Expo Milano 2015
A group of 300 local and foreign specialists was assembled for the project and Azerbaijan was the first country to give presentations on the content and design of its pavilion, which has received praise from the Italian and other foreign press. Official delegations of various countries and the management of the exhibition have noted that the Azerbaijani pavilion stood out with its design, and was fully consistent with the Expo’s theme.
The pavilion covered an area of 1,800 square metres and acquainted visitors with the historical and cultural heritage, rich environmental and energy potential and rare biodiversity of Azerbaijan. The three different biospheres in the pavilion embodied Azerbaijan, which has managed to keep its environment and ancient culture in harmony with one another. The wave-like wooden walls of the pavilion symbolised the wind, a feature of Azerbaijan, and the cultural and creative flow constantly circulating here. Azerbaijan: Treasury of Biodiversity was built especially for the Expo Milano 2015 and reflected the inimitable natural and cultural treasure of this region, which acts as a bridge between North and South, East and West.
The first biosphere, Crossing Cultures, invited visitors on a journey through the most important historical and cultural places in the country. The second biosphere, Biodiversity, was devoted to its natural biodiversity and cultural heritage; the construction in the centre represented the pomegranate tree of Azerbaijan, a symbol of wealth. The next biosphere was called Innovation and Tradition, containing the figure of a tree with its roots to the sky. This symbolised the commitment of the Azerbaijani people to tradition, while at the same time portraying Azerbaijan as an innovative and forward-thinking country.
The first floor of the pavilion was called Symphony of Sounds, providing information about the history, culture and geography of Azerbaijan. The second floor - in the Symphony of Colours section - gave information about the climate, landscapes and biological diversity. The third floor, called Symphony of Flavours, touched on the national cuisine and organic foods, and offered samples for visitors to try. Also on this floor, in the Open Baku and Faces of Azerbaijan sections, along with photos, maps and portraits of Azerbaijanis representing different areas of the country, visitors could also meet Azerbaijani citizens interactively.
The national pavilion also reflected the nine climate zones in Azerbaijan as well as the fact that international organisations recognise our country as one of the 25 areas of global biodiversity. In addition, monitors installed in the pavilion demonstrated the best of Azerbaijani music and cinema, and material related to our customs, traditions and art. On the terrace of the fourth floor was a functioning restaurant, serving national cuisine and hosting various concerts.
The IDEA – Biodiversity park, in the courtyard of the national pavilion, offered information on the activities of the organisation IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Protection), various environmental projects and organised entertainment programmes.
The interior design of the pavilion also reflected the ongoing work to protect Azerbaijan’s biodiversity and to address environmental problems in the country, to restore and protect natural resources and to implement local and international environmental projects.
Visitors could also see the results of photo and video shoots of the rich diversity of landscapes, natural resources and historical monuments existing in different regions of Azerbaijan. The shoots took place in Baku as well as in Ganja, Nakhchivan, Lenkeran, Sheki, Qabala, Shabran and Quba and other cities and regions during preparations for Expo Milano 2015.
All of this great work was well worth it – the Azerbaijani pavilion attracted over a million visitors monthly. And a variety of presentations, conferences, expositions, and performances by Azerbaijani groups were held in the pavilion by the end of October. At the same time visitors could listen to mugham, watch dancing and taste delicious Azerbaijani sweets such as shekerbura, pakhlava and more.
The Unique Features of the Pavilion
Azerbaijan displayed innovation in its pavilion, establishing a direct connection with Baku. At the entrance to the pavilion on the ground floor was a monitor in the form of a mirror of human height. An identical monitor was installed in front of the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku and these monitors were connected to each other. People facing the monitor in the pavilion could see the people standing in front of the monitor in Baku. Similarly, residents and guests of Baku could see the Azerbaijani pavilion and meet the participants of the exhibition. This project, dubbed Mirroring Baku, created a direct link between Baku and thousands of the exhibition’s participants.
A ‘‘music wall’’ installed on the first floor presented national instruments - the ud, canon and tar. If visitors touched the strings of these instruments with their hand, those who registered at the entrance saw their names with the word welcome on the monitors.
Part of the first floor was made of glass, under which were several maps of Azerbaijan – of the geography, economy, climate, natural resources etc. The glass floor was surrounded by four large monitors; the four poles. They showed the distance and time from any point in the world (New Delhi, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Singapore, New York, Moscow, etc.) to Baku.
Each visitor to the pavilion had the opportunity to register at the entrance and monitor their activity remotely via a special application on their smartphone. By registering the visitor entered a competition offering the opportunity of a free trip to Azerbaijan. Each month about 80,000 people registered on the pavilion’s website and every guest could gain points interactively on each floor. Every month two winners were chosen to travel to Baku and other regions of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani National Day
Despite the pavilion opening its doors in May, the official presentation - National Day - was held on 9 July. The ceremony was attended by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. The event was also attended by representatives of the Italian government, distinguished guests, public figures and diplomats.
The Azerbaijani president congratulated the Italian government on the Expo’s high standard of organisation, and said:
[The pavilion] has been built to a high standard and provides an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with our country. Azerbaijan is an ancient land, it has a rich culture, history and architectural monuments. However, as an independent country, we are only 24 years old. Which is why various events are happening to promote our country in Europe and the world. Milan 2015 occupies a special place amongst them.
Ilham Aliyev noted that within two months, over a million visitors to the pavilion had learned about Azerbaijan. This in itself showed that the country generated great interest, and this interest was reciprocal. But the best acquaintance is, of course, to see Azerbaijan. I invite you, our friends, to Azerbaijan - Aliyev said.
Director General of the Expo Milano 2015 exhibition Bruno Antonio Pasquino noted that Azerbaijan was among the first to join the Expo and one of the most active in the preparation stages -
Numerous guests to the Expo Milano 2015, thanks to your pavilion, have had the opportunity to learn about Azerbaijan. They have learnt about a country and a people who are open to the future and who believe in it; a country which has a rich history, culture, rapid development, influence on the international stage, committed to tradition and technological innovation.
Italian specialists & the pearl of the Expo
A large team of Italian specialists helped prepare the Azerbaijani national pavilion for the Expo 2015 in Milan. One of the team members was Celeste Sergianno, the content manager of the pavilion. Whilst preparing the content Celeste visited Azerbaijan several times -
I had never been to Azerbaijan before so this was a great experience. At first I found it hard because everything was so new and unknown. I visited Baku, Nakhchivan, Sheki, Quba, Lenkeran, the Absheron and other parts of the country. We took a lot of photos and videos for the Azerbaijani pavilion, said Sergianno.
I think the Azerbaijani pavilion turned out fabulously. It was a great surprise to discover Azerbaijan - the cuisine, music, culture and the incredible heritage.
Monitoring of visitors’ reactions to the pavilion’s content was underway almost from the very start. According to Celeste, almost all the guests said things like “wow” and “it’s unbelievable.”
The chief architect of the pavilion Ricardo Cigolotti was sure that the original goal had been achieved and that the Azerbaijani pavilion had been presented in its national architectural style. According to him, the pavilion was of great interest not only to Italians, but also to visitors from all over the world, and he added that around the exhibition the Azerbaijani pavilion was being called ‘‘the pearl’’ of Expo 2015.
The Azerbaijani pavilion was being called ‘‘the pearl’’ of Expo 2015
When asked what he was able to bring to life in the project from what he had seen in Azerbaijan, the architect said:
Above all it was the wonderful landscapes, nature, and biodiversity that caught our attention in Azerbaijan, so the creative team working on the videos about Azerbaijan focused especially on this. Besides this, we were amazed by the Azerbaijani culture and music, so there is a special place for this in our pavilion. And we also witnessed the steps being taken towards the future in Azerbaijan, so that was the reason we did the work in a futuristic style.
Coming to Baku
The Azerbaijani pavilion was unique because it could be dismantled and installed elsewhere, and the organisers plan to move the exhibition space to Baku following the Expo Milano 2015.
The Azerbaijani pavilion was originally constructed from environmentally friendly, easily recyclable materials. After six months at the exhibition, the pavilion is supposed to be dismantled and brought to Baku for a further permanent exhibition as a Centre of Biodiversity, said Anar Alakbarov, Director of the Heydar Aliyev Centre.
Where exactly the pavilion is likely to be placed in Baku is still under discussion but one of the options being considered is the territory of the Botanical Garden, which is due to be developed and improved. Another option is the area around the National Flag Square. But wherever it ends up, the Azerbaijani Pavilion will bring a piece of the Expo Milano 2015 to Baku.
About the author: Elchin Huseynov is a journalist for trend.az.