The massive festival can trace its roots to a tradition started by peasants and fisherman who would place candles inside of chunks of ice to create makeshift lanterns during the Qing dynasty. (Wang Song/Xinhua Press/Corbis)
Tens of thousands of visitors will flock to Harbin, China to see the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
The rainbow towers light up the night in the chilly Northeast Heilongjiang Province. ( Stephen Shaver/ZUMA Press/Corbis License)
A rendering of Turkey's famous Hagia Sophia captures the architectural complexity of the building's massive dome. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
Harbin hosts one of the largest ice festivals in the world. The other big three are located in Sapporo, Norway and Quebec, respectively. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
In recent years, the festival has begun including sculptures that draw inspiration from popular culture. In 2009, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh were represented at the festival. (Tao Zhang/Demotix/Corbis)
The festival takes up approximately 8 million square feet of the city. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
Currently, the festival is still in its soft open. Fireworks will mark the official opening of the Harbin Ice Festival on January 5th.
The London skyline finds its way to China in this artist's sculpture, complete with homages to the city's iconic architectural sights like the London Eye and Big Ben. (Stephen Shaver/ZUMA Press/Corbis)
The International Ice and Snow Festival officially starts January 5th, and will run until the end of February. (Stephen Shaver/ZUMA Press/Corbis)
Harbin held its first ice lantern festival in 1963. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
Sculptors typically draw inspiration for their work from famous world monuments or images in Chinese fairytales. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)
Harbin has been nicknamed the "Ice City" because temperatures can dip as low as -36 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months. (Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/Corbis)

All the World’s a Frozen Sculpture at China’s Ice and Snow Festival

Thousands flock to one of the country’s coldest regions to see the stunning displays

smithsonian.com

In 2000, Harbin, the capital city of China's northernmost provincea, decided to welcome the new millennium by creating a giant ice and snow exhibition. In the bitterly cold winter, where temperatures average around 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, thousands of sculptors and artists cut and hauled ice from the Songhua River, which flows through capital, to sculpt massive sculptures that they then illuminated with LED lights. 

The result, the Harbin Ice and Snow World, has become a yearly tradition, the crown jewel of the province's famous Ice and Snow Festival that includes an art expo that features large snow sculptures and the child-friendly ice lantern fair that dates back to a centuries-old tradition of making lanterns out of frozen blocks. While the festival celebrates its 32nd anniversary on January 5, the Harbin Ice and Snow World, however, already opened its doors to the public this week.

The Ice and Snow World display takes up a massive 750,000 square meters of space, in order to make room for the hundreds of buildings created by carvers who started working on their designs in late November. Typically, sculptors choose to recreate iconic landmarks or images inspired by Chinese fairytales. In years past, many have tried their hand at recreating the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian Pyramids and Iceland's Hallgrimskirkja. After a Disney licensing company took over operations in 2009, more references from popular culture have been added to the mix. Now, it wouldn't be surprising to find Cinderella's castle or a life-size markup of Mickey Mouse nearby a Thai temple. Last year's main attractions at Ice and Snow World included a 160-foot "fairy tower" made of ice and steal, as well as full-sized steam train. 

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