HISTORY COMING TO LIFE: On May 6, a visitor examines a clay figurine of a Bodhisattva from the Tang Dynasty on display at the Footprint Pavilion during the 2010 World Expo (CHENG MIN)
The "the most beautiful and extravagant pavilion" at the 2010 World Expo site is the Footprint Pavilion, one of five themed pavilions.
"Using diverse cultural relics to exhibit the birth and development of cities is the biggest feature of this pavilion," said Chen Xiejun, Curator of the Shanghai Museum, which took on the task of planning the exhibition inside the pavilion four years ago.
Chen said of the more than 300 cultural relics on display in the pavilion, around 200 were borrowed from prestigious foreign museums.
"For Expo tourists, a single tour to see all the treasures here will be well worth the ticket," Chen told reporters of China Culture Daily. The three-floor building in the Puxi section of the Expo site used to be the assembly and welding workshop of the Jiangnan Shipyard, which was built in 1865 and regarded as the cradle of China's modern industry.
Among the highlights visitors see at the venue are 10 priceless pieces of Tang Dynasty (618-907) Buddhism sutras and Buddha sculptures from Dunhuang Grottos in northwest China's Gansu Province.
Chen said, "This is the first time these 10 relics are being shown outside Dunhuang. Visitors to the 2010 World Expo are very lucky to see these national treasures."
Each treasure is exhibited in a tailor-made, hi-tech display case to accurately control the temperature and humidity—costing more than 70,000 yuan ($10,300) each. Dunhuang Academy sends two senior experts to Shanghai every month during the Expo to conduct "physical check-ups" on the pieces.
A 65-cm wooden sculpture of the six-armed Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy), partly damaged due to years of weathering, is among the few Tang Dynasty wooden sculptures of Guanyin that exist in the world today.
Chen told China Network Television, "This wooden piece is representative of all the art pieces in Dunhuang. We know that plump women were regarded as beauties back in the Tang Dynasty. This statue reflects what the Tang people thought was beautiful."
In the pavilion lobby visitors will find themselves surrounded by fresco replicas from Mogao and Yulin grottos depicting the lifestyle of the Tang Dynasty.
There are also live music performances of ancient Chinese songs in the pavilion lobby played on a replica of chime bells excavated from a 2,500-year-old tomb in Hubei Province in 1978. The replicated set of chime bells has been performed on during important occasions, such as the 35th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in 1984 and the ceremony marking Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997. The replica has been exhibited in many countries.
Foreign treasures on display include palace items collected by Green Vault museum in Dresden, Germany, glass ware and enamel paintings provided by Dresden State Art Collections, models of forts, fortresses, churches and city layouts loaned from the Leonardo da Vinci National Science & Technology Museum in Italy.
Exhibition designers have attempted to present a clear timeline of mankind's urban development. The 21,000-square-meter pavilion is divided into four exhibition halls: Ideal Fantasy City makes up the lobby while City's Origin, Growing City and Urban Wisdom are the three major halls. Objects and multi-media display chronicle city development over the past five millennia.
Besides fresco replicas, Tang Dynasty Buddhism sutras and Buddha sculptures, the Ideal Fantasy City hall also presents a 3-dimensional display of ancient Greek society.
The City's Origin hall shows what cities looked like in ancient China and Greece. There is a model of the City of Ur that rises up out of the sand, reflecting its history as the earliest location on earth at which a city originated. The exhibition also showcases how cities, trade and civilizations developed along the Yangtze and Yellow rivers.
Among other cities, the Growing City hall showcases Florence, Amsterdam, Istanbul, and the Forbidden City in Beijing during its period of great prosperity.
The Urban Wisdom hall displays what cities looked like during and after the Industrial Revolution. The exhibition includes the urban re-planning of New York and London, people's lives along the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal and urban renewal efforts in Shanghai. Environmental protection efforts in different cities around the world are also highlighted.
The pavilion is one of five themed pavilions at Expo 2010 along with the Urbanian Pavilion, Pavilion of City Being, Pavilion of Urban Planet and Pavilion of Future. The five have been established accordingly to reflect the overall theme of "Better City, Better Life."