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Published: January 8th 2009
St. Sofia Church in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
St. Sofia Church is Harbin's landmark and dates from 1907. It's Byzantium architecture covers some 720 square yards of land and has been turned into a city museum, though its interior has been sadly neglected, as you will see in some of the pictures in the photo-entry below.
The crowded and long train left my home, cold Taizhou, Jiangsu, at 6:02pm and 24 hours later arrived in what is known as the "coldest" city of China, bone-chilling HARBIN, the capital of China's most northern province of Hailongjiang. The province of Hailongjiang has its borders with arctic Russian-Siberia, and HARBIN looks more like an Eastern-European or Russian city than a Chinese city.
What drives people from around the world, including myself, a tropical Floridian, to visit this deep-freeze, provincial capital in the middle of the harsh winter, where temperatures can reach below -22 Degree Farenheit or -30 Degree Centigrate?
The answer is simple: It is the world-famous, spectacular and annual "Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival"!!
Each year, during every deep-freeze winter in Harbin, a winter that lasts for at least four months, the people of Harbin create a frozen-wonderland and a glittering ice-spectacle with the artistic use of natural snow and ice.
At this annual "Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival", hundreds of local ice-carving-artists as well as numerous international, talented ice sculptors gather in Harbin, to take part in the creation of some of the grandest and most fabulous ice sculptures anywhere
St. Sofia Church in Harbin, Heilongjiang, Photo #9
Exiting the cathedral, I walked to the back of the church and took this photo of the rear-exterior of St. Sofia. Few visitors pass along the back entrance, though it is just as wonderful a sight.
in the world. The festival is held annually, from December through February.
Many of these of the wonderful "Snow- and Ice-Art Sculptures" are located in Harbin's two most important parks: "Sun Island Park" and "Zhaolin Park". In fact, there are various loctions around Harbin, where "distinct" Ice- and Snow Sculptures are on exhibition around the city of Harbin. (Numerous photos of all of them are featured in this, "Part 1", of the Harbin TravelBlog, more will become a part of the second TravelBlog on Harbin.)
The most spectacular of these fantasy "Ice Sculptures" are a short taxi-drive north of Sun-Island Park, also called "The Big World of Ice & Snow Park". This ice- and light display is by far the most spectacular, and a few of these "life-size" and amazing architectural ice-structures are offered below. Many more of these photos will be featured in "Part 2", the next Harbin TravelBlog.
The Harbin Winter Ice Festival culminates with the "Ice Lantern Festival" in the famous Daoli district. Teams of workers transport large chunks of ice taken from further north along the Songhua River and carve them into imaginative, spectacular shapes and whole buildings.
Neon tubes are inserted
The Church of St. Sofia is a splendid Byzantine-style church in the center of the old Harbin.
The Church of St. Sofia is also the largest Russian Orthodox church in the Far East. The Byzantine-style red-brick cathedral is topped with a green onion-shaped dome. It now houses a photographic exhibition of the Russian influence on Harbin.
inside the ice, and then the whole thing is lit up in luminescent blues, purples, reds, pinks, greens, and yellows. It resembles a frozen Disneyworld, as the sculptors often create replicas of famous buildings from around the world:
There is the Cathedral of Notre Dame, buildings from the Forbidden City, Pagodas from India and Thailand, King Ludwig's Castles of Germany, more Western Cathedrals, and dozens more fantasy structures of all shapes and immense sizes.
Among a variety of entertainment offered around the city during this winter festival are precariously-high ice-slides, an ice-maze, an ice-forest, dog-sledding, horse -drawn carriage-rides, ice-skating, skiing, snow-hunting (sadly!), ice fishing etc.
Every year, ice-artists come from around the world, trying to out do each other, and create works of art that can be small figures and simple statues to 40 feet wide panoramas, buildings, monuments and temples, some of them hundreds of feet tall.
When I told my students and friends in Taizhou, that I was on my way to visit Harbin, they shuddered and quickly encouraged me to re-think my destination with the words: "Too cold!!" I went on to remind them, that it is not too cold for the three
A Fairyland of Ice: The primary reason for me to visit Harbin during it's arctic winter.
A section of Harbin's Friendship Park, to the North of Sun Island in Harbin, is turned into a Fantastic Winter Wonderland. Each year from December to February, enormous and fabulous structures of ice and lights are created and amaze visitors from around the world.
million people who live in this city, but they only continued to shake their heads.
Arriving in Harbin, I must tell my students that they were right about "toooo cold", and I would think many times before visiting Harbin again during the winter time. But I will never regret having witnessed the most impressive ice- and snow show anywhere in the world.
In this subzero temperature of winter in Harbin, the one activity that amazed me the most is the winter-swimming in the Songhua River. I do not recommend this to any of those who might wish to imitate the bravery of the locals. Rather, they may want to try more comfortable activities offered to locals and visitors on the river, such as ice-skating, ice-boating, ice-fishing, and snow- and ice-sleighing, where sleds are drawn by huskies and horses.
Here is a condensed history on the city of Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, China:
Harbin is situated in the far North of China, close to the vast sub-Siberian plains. For centuries it was a simple fishing-village on the Songhua River until the Russians linked Moscow to Vladivostok. From there, the Chinese government was "forced" to grant Russia a concession
Main Entrance to the "Big World of Ice & Snow" Festival.
Illuminated by lights, buried within the thousands of blocks of ice, the colorful main entrance to the largest ice festival in the world is just amazing. Yes! The whole structure behind me has been constructed of ice-blocks, and rivals any entrance to any park I have ever seen. (Entrance Fee: 150 Yuan or $22.00)
at Harbin to link with the city of Dalian by rail at the close of the 19th century.
The railway and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, brought large numbers of White Russian refugees to the city as they crossed the "Black Dragon River", also known in the West as the "Amur River". With these thousands of new immigrants from the West came a change of furtune for Harbin, as the old "Chinese town" was soon dwarfed by large Russian constructions.
At one stage, around 160,000 foreigners from some 33 countries were living in the new city, and they set up over 1,000 companies, including China's first beer brewery in 1900. "Harbin Beer" is still considered one of China's best beers and one of the important sponsors of the Ice Festival.
Soon Harbin was known as "Little Moscow" or the "Moscow of the East", as neighborhoods were filled with Russian architecture. Harbin was then only a seven days train journey from Paris bringing with it the latest fashions, often before these reached Shanghai or Hong Kong.
Much of the Russian impressive colonial architecture remains standing today. One of the prime attractions of the city is a walk
Fantasy Buildings of Ice and Lights
These illuminated fantasy-ice-structures are immense and life-size. They have been contructed by thousands of laborers and artists and light-technicians. There are dozens of them around the park, leaving the visitors speechless and in awe.
along the "Central Street" (Zhongyang Dajie). There are buildings of most European early twentieth-century styles along the length of this cobbled street. It remains today as the most popular shopping area of Harbin, and has been turned into longest pedestrian mall in all of China.
Many Western restaurants and stores have redecorated the interiors of these genuine architecural gems, but there are some buildings that have survived that kind of unfortunate modernizations and still look and feel quite European. Strolling around the area I found Russian Chocolate shops, Russian gift-stores, coffee shops and some of the most expensive restaurants in town. (Sadly of course, there are also the ever-present McDonalds and KFCs.)
Even today, Harbin resembles more a Russian City, and only the "Jile Temple", the "Qiji Futu Pagoda" and the language remind me, that I am still in China.
Harbin's most spectacular Russian edifice is the "Church of St. Sofia". Constructed in 1907, it is also the largest Russian Orthodox church in the Far East. It is a Byzantine-style red-brick cathedral, topped by a green, onion-shaped dome. It presents itself spectacularly on the outside, but has been sadly neglected in its interior.
Harbin also maintains
A close-up of the previous photo
Only the fair prince and princess are missing, though they may be found frozen within the ice-castle.
"Stalin Park", stretching some 26 miles along the Songhua River and is China's last public memorial to Joseph Stalin, once the China's great enemy.
I visited some of Harbin's beautiful Buddhist temples, all of which were damaged during the Cultural Revolution. The "Jile Si" is home to an active Buddhist community. The complex follows a typical Buddhist temple layout with Drum and Bell Towers, Hall of Heavenly Kings, and a main hall, adorned with statues of the Historical Buddha (Sakyamuni) and a number of Bodhisattvas.
Next to the "Jile Si" monestary is the seven-tiered "Qiji Futu Pagoda" and stands within the largest temple complex in the Province of Heilongjiang, of which Harbin is the capital. An impressive, tall gold-Buddha statue adorns the center of the temple-compound.
The "Wenmiao Jie" is a Confucian Temple complex, housing a sizeable shrine to the Master Confucius and is only a short walk from the Buddhist Temples.
I will present my week-long visit to the ice-city of Harbin in "two" parts:
These are the highlights of TravelBlog Entry #110, PART ONE:
First: The "HIGHLIGHTS" of my visit to the winter city of Harbin
Second: The most famous
Gold illuminated Ice-Pagodas impress the visitors.
A group of ice-pagodas tower over visitors to the Harbing Ice Festival. Even the photos cannot convey their size, only their beauty.
landmark of Harbin, the beautiful church, "St. Sofia"
Third: The Taiyangdao Scenic Spot also called Sun Island, with its graceful and imaginative "white-snow-sculptures"
Fourth: The "night" scene along the Zhongyang Dajie, the most prominent commercial street and pedestrian walk in the city center
Fifth: The "Mickey Mouse Ice-World" in the center city "Zhaolin Park"
So put on your deep-freeze winter coats and enjoy PART ONE of my visit to HARBIN, the coldest capital of China's most northern province of Heilongjiang.
Please take the time to appreciate the wonderful details of the ice- and snow artistry by enlarging the enclosed 108 photos. You only need to click on each photo to be amazed.
Your thoughts, suggestions, comments and questions are greatly appreciated. They will encourage the continuation of my travel-entries, each of which take many dozens of hours to complete.
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