Originally published over at Associated Content on 03/01/10.
On the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium stands one of the city’s most popular and strangest landmarks.
Built for the Brussels World Fair in 1958 (Expo ’58), the Atomium takes the shape of an iron crystalline molecule, albeit one magnified 165 billion times. The design, by engineer André Waterkeyn (1917-2005), was intended to represent the peaceful use of atomic science. The structure was intended to be temporary, standing for only 6 months, however, it was so popular that it remains standing today, having celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2008.
In the intervening years it has become one of Belgium’s best-known landmarks and most popular tourist attractions. The building consists of nine interconnected spheres and stands 102 metres high. From the topmost sphere there is a 360º panoramic view over Brussels and sometimes, on a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Antwerp to the northeast.
Refurbishment of the Atomium
Prior to the Atomium’s 50th anniversary it underwent extensive renovations between 2004 and 2006. During which the original aluminium sheets, which had grown dull over the years, covering the domes were replaced with new stainless steel panels. Additionally during this period a variety of new facilities were added, including the new Kids Sphere.
In March 2006, a commemorative €2 coin was issued to mark the completion of the renovations. Since its refurbishment it has gone from being simply the most Belgian of monuments to also serving as a museum with permanent and temporary exhibits on a variety of subjects cogent with the buildings original theme of what kind of future do we want for tomorrow?
For safety reasons, three of the upper spheres are not open to the public, as they do not have vertical supports. None of the spheres were originally intended to have supports, until wind-tunnel tests revealed that the structure would topple in winds of 80km/h. One of the lower spheres houses a permanent exhibition on Expo ‘58.
The Kids Sphere is only open to groups of children as part of the Atomium’s educational project. The educational project focuses on the role of towns and cities within society, helping children understand the good and bad side of this role. Groups of primary school children (between the ages of 6 and 12) are able to stay the night in the sphere, taking part in a variety of educational activities and sleeping in mini spheres known as raindrops (designed by Spanish artist Alicia Framis).
Getting There and Opening Hours
By Public Transport: The Atomium stands a short walk from Metro stop Heysel/Heizel on line 6. It can also be reached by Tram 23 and Bus numbers 84 and 88. There are also tour buses for sightseeing that take you there directly and a variety of special tourist tickets for public transport.
By Car: From Ring Road West take Exit 8 (Wemmel-Heizel). There are several free car parks close to the Atomium.
The Atomium is open every day of the year from 10am to 6pm (last tickets at 5.30pm).