Having spent most of my life a stone’s throw away from the beach in Australia, I’ve built my fair share of sandcastles. But the intricately carved castles that I came across in Lappeenranta are nothing like the pitiful piles of sand that I used to proudly adorn with makeshift flags.

Now in its 15th year, the Lappeenranta Sandcastle remains one of the town’s most popular events. Mirka Rahman, head of marketing, tourism, and customer service, estimates that 100,000 to 150,000 visitors pass through the gates each year to stand in awe at the creations.

The title is somewhat misleading: there is not one solitary castle, but a series of elaborate sculptures which vary in theme from year to year. Rahman says that the team receives a helping hand with this process. “The city cooperates with local schools and allows children to contribute to the sandcastle themes and design elements.”

From Kalevala to wild west

So far, the artists have explored the wild west, space, fairy tales, and even Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, but this year the focus is on the European Year of Cultural Heritage. A tribute to Finnish castles takes pride of place, but the artists have also given a nod to iconic landmarks and cultural traditions right across Europe.

Construction took six weeks to complete and involved the use of some three million kilograms of sand. Lead artist, Kimmo Frosti, says that the sand is recycled each year and the work begins with heavy machinery, moving the sand to the right location and shape in accordance with his design. This year Frosti, who was responsible for the very first Lappeenranta Sandcastle, led a multi-national team of 22 artists experienced in working with materials like stone, metal, wood, ice, snow, and of course, sand.

Divulging his secrets to building the perfect sandcastle, Frosti says that the sand is first sprayed with water and compacted with an excavator. The “top parts are stacked inside plywood boxes and compacted with one-legged machines, operated by Latvian sand experts.”

Once the boxes are placed on top of one another in a pyramid shape, the artists then carefully start work, building from top to bottom. The final touch is a spray with an environmentally-friendly glue mixture to ensure longevity.

This year the highest point is 10 meters, making the Lappeenranta Sandcastle the tallest in Finland. But Rahman and Frosti have their sights set higher. “We are practicing towards the world’s tallest sandcastle. We aim to make the world record next summer,” the artists conclude.