A spectacular musical and theatrical show in three acts heralded the start of Switzerland's five-month-long national exhibition, Expo.02, on Tuesday.
The two-hour performance, broadcast live on Swiss television, began with an aerial display and FA/18 jet fly-past.
The specially-choreographed play, put together by Swiss director François Rochaix, was staged simultaneously on platforms in four different locations across western Switzerland's "Three Lakes Region".
The lakeside platforms, located in Biel, Murten, Yverdon-les-Bains and Neuchâtel, will be the home of the national exhibition over the next five months.
A host of about 1,800 actors, musicians, singers, fire-eaters, mime artists, jugglers, swimmers and divers were drafted in to make their mark on the opening evening.
The show opened at dusk with the arrival of the mythical winged horse Pegasus, before a hymn to the night was sung on all four platforms.
The monumental performance of music and dance later drew to a close with the individual illumination of each lakeside venue.
The festivities began earlier in the evening with an official opening ceremony in Neuchâtel's ice rink.
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."
A swissinfo correspondent at the opening ceremony, Samantha Tonkin, said there was a "great sense of expectation" as the exhibition got underway.
"There's a real sense of excitement...it seems that people are really looking forward to coming to Expo," she said.
Rallying the nation
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.
Expo.02 is Switzerland's first national exhibition since 1964 and has been billed as a showcase for Switzerland and as a celebration of its multicultural society.
Organisers are expecting around 4.8 million people 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