Festive light spectacle sparkles in home of diamonds

Mythical animals, symbolism and legends. 

Yes, Christmas has it all but there’s something else also happening over the festive period that encompasses all of these as well.

It’s called “China Light Zoo”, the 2018 edition of what is now a highly popular annual event held in the grounds of Antwerp zoo each winter.

For those unfamiliar with the event, this is a particularly impressive display of light sculptures which give you the chance to also learn a bit about ancient China.

This year’s display tells the story of Princess Lotus and her beloved. Impressive Chinese luminous objects tell of their mythical love affair.

All of this is beautifully complemented by dreamy traditional music and magical Chinese dances. 

The event started in 2014 but this year it takes place at a special time in the history of Antwerp Zoo – its 175th anniversary.

The display of Chinese lanterns is a centuries-old tradition and for this special anniversary edition the zoo looked East for inspiration.

Teams in China and Antwerp came up with a great story which really immerses visitors in Oriental culture and architecture and the world of lotus, dragons and buddhas.

Chinese – and local – craftsmen have spent weeks diligently welding the different parts of the compositions together and putting them in the right place. The handmade metal structures have been turned into shining 3-dimensional images.  Some of the figures and objects were assembled in Antwerp itself while others were made by a near 100-strong team of artists in China and then transported to Antwerp by ship. The light artists come from Zigong in the province of Sichuan, a city world famous for its light festival.

At China Light ZOO you walk past a 4 metre-high Buddha while the theme of “love and war” is reflected in the warriors of the terracotta army. Not to be outdone, a 15-metre whale is one of the showpieces of this new edition. You can also send greetings to the world on a wish tree.

Visitors will ogle at a 30-metre palace, 50-metre phoenix and a 60-metre-long dragon boat scene. The number of objects has quadrupled compared to the first edition.

The statistics are highly impressive: the display features 71 compositions; 2,700 luminous objects (in 2014, they had only 631); 4,500 hours of know-how; 60 tons of steel (15 tons in 2014);  30,000 small lights; 36 containers (9 in 2014); 130 artists collaborators; 32 artists (compared to 23 in 2014) and 25,000 meters of satin.

It’s great for a visit at any time of the day but is particularly popular and magical in evening when the grounds of the gardens are lit and, at fixed times, accompanied by two dances of traditional dancing. You and friends can gather round braziers and warm up with mulled wine, hot chocolate, Chinese tea or beer. It is also a nice way to gear up for Chinese New Year in February.

A zoo spokesman said, “We are closing the year of our 175th anniversary with great fanfare. This festival of Chinese lights will amaze, not only with bright works of art but also with some imposing unique characters. The zoo was inspired by what is done in China and adapted this.”

The spectacle runs until 13 January 2019 (with the exception of 24 and 31 December). You can start a visit between 6pm and 8pm during one of three time slots (from 6-7.30pm; 7-8.30pm or 8-9.30pm).

The time slot determines when you start your visit before the show closes at 9.30pm.

Antwerp zoo is easy to access as is located next to the city’s Central Station with excellent rail links to Brussels. For those travelling by car there are car parks within walking distance of the zoo (visitors get a special China Light discount at some of them).

Prices vary from €10 to €17 and a zoo/Planckendael subscription entitles you to a discount.

The spectacle was, when it was launched four years ago, a first in Belgium and this brand new concept and story have been specially written for 2018 - one reason why China Light ZOO promises to be more sparkling than ever.

It’s described as a “fairy tale-like light show that immerses the zoo and winter in Antwerp in a magical atmosphere.”

So, what better excuse to make a beeline to Belgium’s brilliant 2nd city for a real treat this festive season?

Further details via: www.ZOOantwerpen.be/ChinaLightZOO

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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