Lake Biwa, Japan
Independence Day in the United States is fast approaching, and while celebrations may not be back to their pre-pandemic normal, like every Fourth of July since 1777, this year’s celebrations will undoubtedly involve fireworks.
Why? “A year after the U.S. declared independence on July 4, 1776, accounts from both John Adams and the Virginia Gazette say the former colonists launched fireworks to celebrate,” writes Claire Wolters in a Nat Geo explainer on how fireworks came to America. But these quintessential emblems of nationalism have a history that dates back millennia and circles the world.
The story of fireworks begins in about 200 B.C., when people in Liyuan, China, created firecrackers by tossing bamboo stalks into pits of fire. With the advent of gunpowder, pyrotechnics really took off. They lit up Europe in the Middle Ages and, of course, remain an integral part of Lunar New Year celebrations. Polychromatic displays became a global phenomenon soon after Italian pyrotechnicians, in the 1830s, leveraged metallic powders to create specific colors.
From fizzling handheld sparklers to elaborately orchestrated displays, fireworks have been a part of celebrations for centuries. But be careful. Cities across the U.S West have banned Fourth of July fireworks amid wildfire concerns.
Here are 12 places to see the best pyrotechnic shows around the world. These photographs capture sparkling scenes over Japan’s Lake Biwa, Australia’s Sydney Harbor, and Washington D.C.’s National Mall, among other destinations.