The Festival of Light in Longleat Safari Park
This travel article is about our visit to the Festival of Light in Longleat Safari Park.
We were meeting up with our old friend Philip just before he was about to board the night flight back to Malaysia.
“I have just visited the Festival of Light at Longleat. It is really impressive. It is worth a visit.” Said Philip
“You what? An impressive festival of Light at Longleat! Longleat is a Safari Park and is about animals in a Safari Park”. – I replied with disbelief.
“There were thousands and thousands of Chinese lanterns in the form of animals, flowers and Chinese symbols in this large piece of land. I have never seen such an impressive display outside China. You should make an effort to see this exhibition.”
Philip had studied the Chinese language and Culture at University and keeps up his interest in this subject. He is an avid traveller making regular visits to China on Business and for his own cultural interests. He has a particular interest in the finer aspects of Chinese Culture. In other words, he knows what he was talking about.
I said to Helen, we have to make an effort to visit Longleat even though it was in the midst of winter and in the middle of the English Countrysdie.
And so we did.
Chinese Culture and Lanterns
Lanterns are an integral part of Chinese Culture. It is said to have been started in the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD), where the outer casing is used to protect the flame. The flame would last longer and be more reliable as it is not affected by the wind.
Over the ages, the lantern has become an object of artistic expression like status symbols, entrance way lighting, a portable device to light up the exteriors as well as the interiors. Lanterns together with fireworks have been used as part of celebrations to light up the night,
The Chinese calendar has 2 Lantern festivals.
Chinese New Year – (on the 15th Day of the 1st Lunar Month). This marks the end of the Spring Festival which is a time of family reunion.
The Mid Autumn Festival – (on the 15th Day of the 8th Lunar Month). A celebration to mark the harvest of the crops grown in the summer. Family celebrations with many outdoor activities which include the moon cake.
The Festival of Light at Longleat Safari Park
Longleat Safari Park organised the Festival of Light for the Christmas 2014 season. This Festival is to showcase the development of Lanterns by the Chinese over the Centuries. The origins of the Lantern Festival is said to come from the City of ZiGong in SiChuan Province (South West China) in the Tang Dynasty (618 -907AD). It was subsequently followed in the other cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
About 50 craftsmen from ZiGong spent 6 months creating the 7,000 lanterns using about 10 miles of silk, 25 miles of LED lights, 30 tonnes of steel for the frames of the illuminated structures.
The highlights feature a 65 ft Chinese Temple (quarter scale Temple of Heaven), a 230 foot long porcelain dragon (23,000 pieces of crockery of plates, cups and bowls) and qilin each, made of 65,000 glass phials and a family of life- sized giant pandas.
The aim of this post is to record the visit for the travel blog.
Our visit to the Festival of Light at Longleat Safari Park:
The design of the Arch at the Longleat Safari Park sends out a clear message.
It is large, grand and strikes you from afar with the heading “Festival of Light”. Then there are the replicas of traditional chinese symbolism all over the arch including “roofs”. It sends out a clear message. It is a large exhibition of the finest displays of Chinese heritage in Longleat Safari Park.
The size and stature of the arch with the heading – “Festival of Light” – sends out a clear message – it a large.
The pandas are native to SiChuan province and the Festival showed off their National Treasure with a forest of bamboo trees with a number of pandas. The lanterns were life sized with fine detail.
The safari animals were well laid out around the lake – herds of the big Five – lions, elephants, rhinos, leopard and buffalo. It was a good representation of the real wildlife park
By the lake, crocodiles on the near side with frogs, lotus and the mandarin duck on the far side.
A collection of Chinese Face Masks. The tradition of the face mask goes back centuries with roots in ancient religious practises. Currently, the mask is used to define the theatrical character and the colour adds to the emotion of the scene. The size of the masks can be seen with the shadow of a visitor.
A herd of elephants carrying a vase of lotus flowers. The lotus flower is considered by the Chinese as a symbol of purity.
Dragon – 230 ft (70 metres) dragon – the amazing detail in the assembly of the porcelain, the lighting and the puffing smoke from the dragon’s mouth at intervals. The dragon is made of thousands of porcelain pieces – plates, bowls, cups etc.
The 65 ft (20 metres) high (one quarter size) – Temple of Heaven – it was such a wonderful representation of the original in Beijing. The detail was impressive. The dragon is in the background.
The qilin – a mystic animal which is a cross of a horse and a dragon. There are about 65,000 glass phials in each mystical animal. The image shows the detail of the design. The shadow of a keen photographer can be seen on the left side of the image. This shows the size of these lanterns,
An example of a row of flowers – Lilies in this case.
There were rows of various plants and trees in various parts of the Festival.
There was another section devoted to cartoon characters. It was colourful and imaginative.
A corridor of red lanterns with a circular display of traditional Chinese lanterns over head.
The display of overhead lanterns in the corridor.
Comment of the Festival of Light at Longleat Safari Park
I was really taken aback by the sheer scale and the high standard of the Festival. The 30 acres of Longleat Safari Park was filled with lanterns of varying shapes and sizes. There were different methods of construction – porcelain, phials in additional to the metal frame covered in painted silk. Then there was different types of lighting – included LEDs, halogen together with different colours and changing colour pattern displays which vary with time.
The entrance had an impressively large traditional Chinese Arch in Chinese “flame red” announcing to the arriving visitor what it was and what to expect.
The most impressive display was the 230 foot dragon. The body was made up of 23,000 porcelain pieces. These pieces are the standard Chinese tableware of plates, bowls and cups. It was held together metal wire. It is the ingenious skill of the artisans to build this structure from these standard materials with a decent finish. There was intricate lighting of different colours on the body. Of course, puffs of “smoke” came out of the mouth at varying intervals.
The largest display there was the one quarter replica of the Chinese icon – The Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is 65 feet high. It is the sheer size with the amazing detail of the structure that stood out.
The finest display was the qilins. Each mystic animal was covered in intricate designs that were so fine with so many different colours and shades. This was because it was made of 65,000 phials filled with coloured liquids.
There were the simpler structures in the various themes – animals, Chinese symbols, flowers and cartoons – with the different and varying designs and colours. All built to a high visual standard. It is the variety of designs, the different types of construction and the methods of lighting that was mind-boggling.
Of course, there was a display of technology. There was display of lights changing colours in various sequences. This was most evident in the flowers spread out on the grass.
Then there was the traditional Chinese red lantern. The designers arranged thousands of these lanterns at the exit arch of the Festival. It was a simple but impressive arrangement bidding farewell to the visitors.
This Festival was certainly a sight to behold. I was wowed at the size, high standard and organisation. I believe that this is the first time a Chinese lantern festival of this type is held in the UK and Europe and we were privileged to report it in a travel blog.
The Festival was well organised and I found it very safe with the lanterns providing the ambient lighting. I saw a number of families moving easily with their children in pushchairs.
Our friend Philip was correct about the Festival. It is certainly a worth whole trip even though it is in the middle of the English Countryside and in mid-winter.
It only comes alive when it gets dark!
About Dr Michael Oon:
Michael was brought up in Singapore and came to the UK for schooling. He was a forensic scientist at the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory (New Scotland Yard, London) for 20 years. He is now a consultant practicing traditional feng shui and works with property developers. He specialises in helping to sell property faster. He has travelled extensively around the world as part of his work and together with his wife Helen.
The Festival of Light was held at the Longleat Safari Park www.longleat.co.uk/.
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