Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 2012: Spectacular Sculptures Pierce China’s Skies

Fairy tale palaces, towering pagodas and skyscrapers — all carved from ice — are among the sights at the 28th annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

The festival, one of the world’s largest, officially opens January 5 and lasts for a month. People from across China and overseas are drawn to the unique visions of an international roster of sculptors who illuminate their creations with multicolored lights encased in the translucent ice. The sculptures and buildings are built from ice blocks cut from the frozen surface of the nearby Songhua river.

The festival attracts about 800,000 visitors each year to Harbin, one of China’s coldest cities, located in the northeast province of Heilongjiang, where the mercury in January often creeps below minus four degrees Fahrenheit.

Visitors view buildings made from blocks of ice for the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival on Wednesday, January 4, 2012. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

A horse carriage carrying tourists travels past ice sculptures during the lights testing period of the Harbin Ice and Snow World, December 25, 2011. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Tourists visit ice sculptures on the night before the opening ceremony of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, January 4, 2012. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Visitors walk up stairs made from blocks of ice on Wednesday, January 4, 2012. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

A tourist slides down an ice sculpture at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival on January 4, 2012. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Tourists visit ice sculptures during the lights testing period of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival on December 25, 2011. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Tourists visit ice sculptures on January 4, 2012. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

A tourist records video of ice sculptures during the lights testing period on December 25, 2011. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Tourists visit ice sculptures during the testing period of the Harbin Ice and Snow World on December 25, 2011. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

Fireworks light up the sky above ice structures on the first day of China’s annual ice and snow festival in Harbin on January 5, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

People get an early look at the 2011 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival on December 25, 2010. (Wang Jianwei/Xinhua/Associated Press)

Fireworks light up the sky to kick off the annual festival in 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

Tourists walk among ice structures at the festival in December 2007. (Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images)

Visitors tour the festival in January 2008. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Tourists climb on an ice structure during New Year’s Eve celebrations at Harbin on December 31, 2007. (Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images)

An huge scuplture is displayed at the annual festival in Harbin on January 5, 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

An ice sculpture of the Sphinx at the festival in 2010. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Fireworks light up the sky above ice structures on the first day of China’s annual ice and snow festival in Harbin on January 5, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

Tourists participate in New Year’s Eve celebrations at the festival in December, 2007. (Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images)

Buildings and sculptures made of ice and snow attract visitors to Harbin in 2008. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Ice scupltures are seen in Harbin on January 5, 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

A woman slides down a 180-meter long ice slide at the festival in 2010. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Ice sculptures are displayed in January, 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

Visitors enjoy the sculptures at Harbin in January, 2010. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

A tourist visits an ice building on January 5, 2007. (Cancan Chu/Getty Images)

Tourists climb on an ice structure at Harbin in December 2007. (Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images)

Ice sculptures are illuminated at the festival on January 5, 2011. (Associated Press)

Ice scupltures are displayed in Harbin on January 5, 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

A detail of an ice sculpture at the 2010 festival. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Visitors enjoy themselves at the 2011 festival preview on December 25, 2010. (Wang Jianwei/Xinhua/Associated Press)

A person inspects a huge Buddha during the festival in 2010. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Workers prepare for the opening ceremony of the festival in 2007. (Cancan Chu/Getty Images)

A worker paints an ice sculpture at the festival in 2007. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers puts the finishing touches on a giant snowman before the festival in 2007. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

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