National exhibitions

Every 25 years or so, Switzerland stages a large-scale national exhibition. The last expo was in 2002 and was spread over four sites around Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten.

The "Monolith" made of rusty steel by Jean Nouvel on Lake Morat at Expo.02
The rusty monolith by Jean Nouvel on Lake Morat during Expo.02 © Nüssli (Schweiz) AG

Roughly every 25 years, Switzerland organises a national exhibition, with the aim of offering a snapshot of prevailing culture, politics and the Swiss economy. The first national exhibition was held in 1883 in Zurich. Its central theme was the importance of school and education for economic growth.

The Swiss army dominated the three subsequent exhibitions (1896 in Geneva, 1914 in Bern and 1939 in Zurich), reflecting a desire by the country to demonstrate its independence. The “Landi” of 1939, in particular, was largely the product of the prevailing ‘national spiritual defence’ policy. In the past, these exhibitions had tended to present an idealised image of life in rural Switzerland in direct contrast to the hustle and bustle of industrial towns. For example, at the 1939 expo, a life-size Swiss village, the “Landi-Dörfli”, was built on the shores of Lake Zurich.

The 1964 National Exhibition in Lausanne presented a futuristic vision of the country through the ‘Gulliver Project’, which involved a computer delivering the latest results of a visitor survey on major current affairs issues in real time. Held at the height of the Cold War, the 1964 Expo showcased Swiss values. For example, the army’s pavilion was in the shape of a giant hedgehog.

The sixth National Exhibition was held in 2002. Expo.02 was spread over four sites, or “arteplages” on Lakes Neuchâtel, Biel and Murten (in the towns of Biel, Neuchâtel, Yverdon-les-Bains and Murten). Expo.02 sought to promote the image of Switzerland as an open and forward-looking nation with a concern for its environmental integrity. Its main theme was water and Switzerland’s commitment to securing peace abroad.

There are plans to hold the next National Exhibition in 2027.