Switzerland's national exhibition, Expo.02, kicked off on Tuesday with an opening ceremony in the lakeside town of Neuchâtel.
All seven members of the Swiss cabinet, including the 2002 president, Kaspar Villiger, joined some 2300 guests from the worlds of politics, culture and business for the grand opening.
"Today we are beginning a great festival," said the president of the Expo.02 steering committee, Franz Steinegger, "to which we invite not just those who live in Switzerland, but also guests from abroad."
The director of Expo.02, Nelly Wenger, seemed visibly moved by the occasion as she addressed the crowd.
"Everything is ready! This time, it's really good! Expo.02 is about to open its doors," Wenger said.
During his own opening remarks, Villiger said he was confident the Swiss would rally together to support the national project.
"Switzerland would not be Switzerland if its exhibition projects did not first of all divide public opinion," said Villiger.
"Such was the case in 1896, 1914, 1939 and 1964. Nevertheless, each time when the festivals have got off the ground, they have contributed to our sense of identity, and really achieved something of which we as a country can be proud," he concluded.
Song for Earth
Around 450 singers, together with 200 instrumentalists from all over Europe, marked the occasion by giving the first-ever live performance of "A Song of Earth", a piece of music specially composed for Expo.02.
The ceremony is due to be followed at 9pm by a specially-choreographed play in three acts, staged on four floating platforms on three different lakes.
The opening event, which has been put together by Swiss director François Rochaix, will take place simultaneously in four different locations across western Switzerland's "Three Lakes Region".
The "arteplages", as the platforms are called, will form the backdrop for this vast theatrical production, which will involve more than 1700 actors and technicians, and cost SFr15 million ($10 million).
A host of musicians, singers, fire-eaters, mime artists, jugglers, swimmers and divers have also been drafted in to make their mark on the evening.
Around 4.8 million people are expected to have visited the different Expo.02 sites by the time the country's national exhibition closes its doors to the public for the last time on October 20.
swissinfo with agencies