The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival opened in the city of Harbin, Heilonjiang, in northeastern China. The event is recognized as the largest of its kind in the world. The Festival officially lasts for one month, but with winter temperatures in the city averaging a bone-chilling minus 17C, many of the sculptures remain in place for considerably longer than that.
The sculptures are formed either from compacted snow, or from blocks of ice which are hauled out of the nearby Songhua River. Purified water is also used, – frozen into blocks of clear ice. Many of the sculptures are illuminated to add another dimension to the displays during the long hours of darkness at this time of the year.
The Festival began in 1963 but it was only held sporadically, because of the upheaval during the Cultural Revolution. It became a regular event in 1985. In 2001 the Harbin Ice Festival was merged with the Heilongjiang International Ski Festival, to become the event we know today. In 2007, a sculpture celebrating the work of a revered Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune, was recognised as the world’s largest ice sculpture. Featuring both Niagara Falls and the Bering Strait, it measured 250m in length and 8.5m in height. A total of 13,000 cubic metres of snow was used in its construction.