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Sydney Opera House celebrates its 40th birthday

One of the world's most famous buildings, the Sydney Opera House, has turned 40. Its construction was one of the most daring and difficult engineering feats ever attempted at the time.

Aboriginal dancers, surf lifesavers and a giant cupcake were all featured in performances to mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of the shell-like building, which dominates Sydney's large harbor.

Huge crowds attended the anniversary ceremony, with guests of honor including three generations of the family of Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who designed the ambitious building.

"As the most internationall recognizable symbol of both Sydney and Australia, it has become our calling card to the world," the governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, said.

In addition to being one of Australia's best-known landmarks, the Opera House is a hub for Sydney's cultural scene, hosting some 2,000 shows a year and attracting 8.2 million visitors.

Complicated construction

Utzon won an international design contest to build the Opera House in 1957. The building took 14 years to complete, and cost in all 102 million Australian dollars (72 million euros, $99 million).

It was one of the most difficult engineering projects undertaken at the time, with Utzon envisaging vaulted roofs that were not supported by pillars or columns.

Utzon, who died in 2008 aged 90, never returned to see the completed building following a series of controversies during its construction.

UNESCO listed the Opera House as a world heritage site in 2007, the year before Utzon's death.

The celebration comes as New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, is seeing its worst bushfires for 40 years, with the Blue Mountains region west of the city the worst-hit. Some 200 homes have been destroyed, and forecasters say conditions are set to worsen.

tj/mz (AFP, dpa)