“ Built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (Expo '58), the 103-metre (335-foot) tall Atomium monument represents a unit cell of an iron crystal (body-centred cubic), magnified 165 billion times, with vertical body diagonal, with tubes along the 12 edges of the cube and from all 8 vertices to the centre. „
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The Atomium is for Brussels what the Eiffel tower is for Paris or the London Eye for London. It is a city land mark that was built originally for the Great Expo of 1958. It was originally thought that it would only last until the end of the exposition but was so popular with the Belgians it became a tourist attraction.
It was designed by Andre Waterkeyn, Andre and Jean Polak and is supposed to represent an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is a super construction consisting of nine balls connected to each other by arms that act as stairways or lift shafts or elevators running through these arms taking the visitor from one orb to another. It is made out of iron and aluminium with glass in the orbs giving wonderful views over the city and surrounding parks.
From the outside it looks a something akin to a space station consisting of nine balls attached to arms that all interconnect to the chain. It is made of steel iron and aluminium and bolted together and at different times of the day it glistens in the sunshine. You are able to visit the Atomium and enter the structure and visit some of the exhibits inside.
To the side of the Atomium is the ticket office where you can obtain your tickets. If you have travelled on the hop on hop off bus you can claim a 2 euro discount on the entry fee. You can also pick up a leaflet telling you about the Atomium. There are toilets here and a small café at the ticket office and the queue for the ladies was really quite long you had to pay to use the facilities I think it was around a euro but don't quote me on that. The toilets were manned and kept clean but you did have to queue for them. We had a delicious espresso before going up the Atomium in the café which was reasonably priced.
After obtaining your tickets you join the queue to go up to the top Orb in a lift and once reaching the top it gives you a birds eye view of the surrounding area and you can look down on the other shining orbs. At the top above the viewing platform there is also a restaurant where you can obtain food and drink. It is surrounded by windows too so you get a really nice view of the surroundings whilst eating. Once you have finished your visit to the top orb then you move down from one tier to the next. The flight of stairs look quite intimidating and it is quite steep not good if you are afraid of heights or you have mobility issues but you can take a lift down.
To go down to the next orb you have to walk down some stairs along the interconnecting tubes. Some of the orbs contain exhibitions and the ones we saw included a short film presentation of workmen working without scaffold during its construction. It was hard work and showed them working during a snow storm. It must have been bitterly cold during its construction.
Descending down one of the tubes is an escalator with shining and alternating coloured neon lights which give a really great impression and a great feeling as you travel down. There is also an exhibition of some of the memorabilia from the great exhibition including photos and trinkets that were sold throughout the year. The hostesses looked really elegant and classy in their fitted suits and skirts. They must have looked really beautiful.
Back down on the ground floor there is the obligatory souvenir shop you have to go through to get out. They were selling all kinds of tat little replicas of the Atomium and one that made me laugh had balls from Brussels written on it. There was chocolate, pens and other stuff you would rather not buy from there.
It has recently been renovated and is now at its best looking spanking brand new with its new outer coat of Aluminium it sparkles and glistens in the sunshine. At night there are tiny lights around the orbs that glow in the dark.
Would I recommend a visit?
Yes it really is something that is quite interesting and fun to visit. It is unusual, quirky and a brilliant tourist attraction. If you are in Brussels I would definitely recommend a visit here. I imagine we were here in total for about an hour and a half actually inside the Atomium and a little longer admiring it from outside. It is great for adults and slightly older children although there is one of the orbs dedicated to children to play in.
It is open from 10:00 to around 18:00 and costs prior to any discounts applied 11 Euros to enter. However by showing your bus ticket you will get a good reduction in the entry price.
'Great idea - let's shrink the visitors down to Sub-Atomic level, and let them wander around an Iron Crystal. Do we have a device we can use to shrink the visitors, and then re-enlarge them later?'
In 1958 - science was a bit like this. Think of all those wacky ideas to get us colonised on Mars by 2010 and all have personal robots in homes. (Oh the lunacy of it all). Thankfully though, the planners for the 1958 International Exhibition Of Brussels (another convoluted title, and oh look, parentheses!), decided it would be easier to make the Iron Crystal larger and let visitors wander around it without fear of accidental permanent shrinkage. 165 billion times is the factor by which the atomic structure was enlarged - and staggeringly huge it is too. Standing proud and gleaming wildly in the sunlight, the Atomium sits atop the Heysel Plateau on the northwestern edge of Brussels. Basically a cube tilted upon one point, the shape describes a cuboid with interlinking nodes - nature's clever isn't it!
Standing 102 metres tall, and consisting of 9 linked spheres, each of 18 metres diameter, the Atomium, designed by Andre Waterkeyn is certainly an innovative and unique structure. Built of Steel interlinking trusses, with a 500 tonne concrete foundation, the structure was at the forefront of designing hollow yet strong tubes of great length. The spheres are covered in thin triangular panels of Aluminium that follow great circle diameters (lots of Maths involved), allowing the insertion of small lights to facilitate nightly lightshows. The windows in the topmost sphere are actually plexiglass, and the shaped in the same triangular panels as the skin of the spheres. The lower spheres have elliptical port holes for light and maintenance, but are otherwise only internally lit.
Technically speaking - the shape has been enlarged by a larger factor than the Nodes - but the size of the spheres was reduced to make them stable and easier to build.
The topmost sphere, a combination observation deck and restaurant, offer stunning views over the area. Looking North and West, the fields of Flanders stretch before you, whilst to the South and East, the leafy suburbs of Stuyvesant and Laeken gradually build into the urbanised mass of the City Centre. Just about discernible some 5 miles away are the office blocks and churches that sit adjacent in the City Centre, leading East to the European Union buildings, past the Cinquantenaire (shameless plug for my Museum review), and further across to the Nato HQ on the edge of Brussels.
Visiting: Practicalities first. Take Metro line 1A which shoots northwards to Heysel (Direction Rue Baudouin). The station also serves Mini-Europe; a wacky miniaturised theme-park which never seems to be open, a giant Waterpark, and a large selection of restaurants, cafes and bars. Collectively known as Brupark - this was an attempt to liven up the area, which can seem a bit isolated and dull out of season. Packed full in the Summer however, this green lung of Brussels is a haven for those seeking some light relief and fresh air, away from the Eurocrat-driven business of the City Centre.
Trams are also available, and the #94 line weaves gently through the Flemish suburbs of the northwest of the City up to a stop adjacent to the Metro Station.
The Atomium is open from 10:00 am - 5pm from October to April, opening til 6pm in the Summer, and til 10pm on Thursdays. The office is open longer, as large groups form and it does take time to process them and allocate guides (usually best for a bunch of kids!)
Standing between two grand avenues, and surrounded by Parkland on two sides, the Brupark and Metro to the West and the remnants of the International Exhibition site (grand Nouveau inspired edifices now used for conferences) to the North, the Atomium is rather hard to miss. It's certainly...different.
Access is limited however, due to the original design and the complexities of the structure - elevators run between the middle spheres, stairs lead up from the bottom to the middle spheres, and a lift shoots only to the topmost sphere and back (although it was the world's fastest at inception). The ticket office is a new structure outside, and now has the obligatory shop inside. Tickets cost 9 Euros for Adults, 6 for 12-18 year olds and Seniors, and Free for under 12s'. It's quite pricey when you realise what you get for your entrance, but updating the Atomium for the modern age, and the temporary closure in 2006 for urgent repairs did cost a lot of money, and yet more money is needed to keep the Atomium safe and open at the same time. The 3 higher spheres that branch off from the top are closed due to wind instability, leaving you with 5 to peruse.
The bottom sphere (named after Henri Storck) has a few bits of paraphernalia relating to the design of the building, and plenty of Expo 58' merchandise available. Stairs lead up to the top of the sphere, from where elevators lead you up a 115ft tube to the 3 middle spheres. The top of the bottom sphere (tautology for you) houses a Kids' Dormitory, where the school groups can sleep out on a field trip in some funkily designed beds. Moving upwards - one of the middle spheres (Marcel Broodthaers) is where the temporary exhibitions are sited - it was a surreal collection of Barbie Dolls when I visted!. Another also has information on the building of the Atomium, which was quite a feat of engineering, planning and a lesser amount of sanity, for the 1950s'. The Middle sphere (Waterkeyns) contains a rather lacklustre bar, but plenty of nice seating, strange light effects and weird echoes emanating between the tubes and spheres. The whole atmosphere of these middle spheres is one of puzzlement and wonder - the escalators are long and narrow and reminiscent of a B Movie Spaceship, the spheres are huge internally and totally static, you forget you're perched 40 metres above the ground, and most visitors are also usually quiet too, presumably lost in the same mix of awe and the confusion as to what you've paid 9 Euros to come and see. The random sections of wacky art usually lift your spirits though, and at no point did I feel that I was wasting my life being in there.
The best experience however, once you've got back down to the bottom sphere is to take the aforementioned lift up to the Observation Deck. The Taste in the Sky Restaurant is open from 7:30pm - 11:00 pm, and serves up a fine A La Carte Menu. A bit pricey and fancy for my tastes, but an eminently splendid viewing spot in which to dine. The glass that surrounds the sphere from waist height upwards is truly amazing, and the views as mentioned earlier are panoramic. You can also dare your vertigo and look downwards to the other spheres, and see how clever all the interlinking nodes are, and then worry slightly at how it all perches on just the central bottom sphere and the emergency stairs below each middle sphere.
In summary - to avoid disappointment at a visit to the Atomium you need to understand its purpose as a Monument and piece of Art.
Compared to a Science Museum or a sprawling tourist attraction it lacks in energy and activity somewhat, but it exists mainly: to look back on Expo 58, to provide a centre point for the Heysel Plateau and its other facilities, and to showcase its magnificent Engineering. Originally planned to come down shortly after the Expo, the National feeling was for it to remain as a Monument to Belgian pride, and as such it fits the bill perfectly - being both unique and entertaining. The ongoing renovations and updates will ensure it remains standing a good deal longer still.
To make sure you feel it'd be worth a visit, consider - how many tall buildings with observation decks are there? Loads! How many Atomic Structure based, precariously balanced steel structures with observation decks are there? See.....
There isn't much to see in Brussels. One thing that is on a lot of tourists' agenda is the Atomium. While it isn't situated in the centre of Brussels, it is still only a fairly short tip away on the local underground (line 1a towards Boudouin) or tram.
The easiest way to find the Atomium is to get on a tram or underground train heading towards the Heysel/Heizel Stadium, known to many British tourists for all the wrong reasons. It's not really that expensive travelling on the Brussels' public transport system. My friend Michael and I bought a day pass for Euro4.00 (about £2.50) and travelled across the capital of Belgium all day for free.
Very short history of the Atomium
The Atomium was built for the 1958 World's Fair in Belgium. It was never designed to outlast the fair and like many other landmarks (the Eiffel Tower in Paris to name just one) it outlasted the initial expectation. With its 50th anniversary approaching fast, it's only appropriate to review this landmark.
Designed by André Waterkeyn, it is 103-metre (335-feet) tall, with nine steel spheres connected so that the whole forms the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Tubes which connect the spheres along the 12 edges of the cube and from all eight vertices to the centre; these tubes enclose escalators containing exhibit halls and other public spaces; the top sphere provides a panoramic view of Brussels.
To be honest, I really couldn't be bothered to look up the history of this particular landmark. But then again, I really shouldn't be too dismissive. After all, the Atomium is one of the best known landmarks in Belgium, something the country is famous for, something that is going to celebrate its golden jubilee in 2008.
It was a cold December afternoon when my friend Michael and I decide that one of the things we had to do while on a day tip to Brussels was a visit to the Atomium. Brussels had not met our expectations at all and while we were hoping for an upturn in fortune, the weather and everything was against us. While on the underground train heading towards Heysel, the heavens opened and icy rain fell upon the city.
Michael and I exited the station with little idea which way to go. There aren't many signposts directing you towards the Atomium, a quick check of the local landscape should give you some indication which way to head. The metro and tram stations are locate next to each other and if you need to get back into Brussels fast, the tram may be your better option. You really can't miss the structure, it sticks out like a sore thumb. After all, who can miss 9 ruddy great big balls suspended in mid air?
The Atomium has undergone refurbishment and was closed for a while. When Michael and I arrived it was very much open and charged Euro9.00 per adult to get inside the Atomium. While I appreciate that not every sphere can be visited, I do expect a lot of information for my money. After all, Euro9.00 translates to well over £6.00 in English money and I expect a lot for it. You buy the tickets in the building next to the Atomium. Inside you will also find toilets, but be prepared to pay Euro0.30 for it. (There are toilets in the top sphere, but from what I could gather, they are reserved for restaurant patrons and not for the other people walking around. But I'm sure they will let you in if you get caught short.
Once inside the inner sanctum of the 'spheres' you may lower your guard (and expectations) and just get on with it. There is a sign next to a set of stairs telling you that you can visit a number of spheres from there, however, the restaurant level is only accessible via the lift in the centre of the hall you were in.
Not to waste time and money, Michael and I, along with a large number of visitors, opted to use the obscure stairway entrance to the Atomium to get on the way. There are a lot of stairs to consider, but you are warned about them. Before you enter the first sphere you are made aware of how many steps you will have to climb so that you can make an informed decision as to the value of the visit. The problem is, if you are not prepared to climb the stairs, there is little or no value to visiting the Atomium in the first place.
It's certainly a good indicator how out of shape you are when you're trying to climb the stairs to the first sphere. We arrived inside the first sphere and felt like we had gone through a time warp and ended up somewhere in the 1950s. A film was running in one area, but there was no sound so we didn't bother with that. There were some exhibits that had come straight out of the 50s, chairs, buildings, tables. And the whole place was pretty empty. Barely anything to look at or read. We headed up towards the next spheres but things didn't get better. There just wasn't anything of interest there for us to do.
At some point we arrived in one sphere where there was a small café. The place was a little underwhelming, rarely anything to chose from and the tables were a little messy to say the least. Most people here were just sitting down without buying anything, just to take the weight off the feet after climbing up the steep staircases.
On our way down again we passed one sphere that was closed for the public. It turned out to be a children's sphere, reserved for children between 6 to 12 years, in particular school classes on outings.
With barely anything to see, it didn't take us long to reach ground level again and it was time to queue for the lift taking us to the top level.
There is a long queue of people waiting to enter the lift (aided by bored looking employees at the best of time - in rather tacky uniforms, at least where the girls are concerned, with balls representing the spheres of the Atomium on their skirts).
The wait for the list was longer than it had taken us to visit the other spheres. People were herded into the lift, at least 20+ at a time and the list took us up at speed. It is still pretty fast but a long time ago they lost the fasted lift record. After all, time doesn't stand still and advances are made - unless you are visiting the Atomium, where you are stuck in a time warp in the 1950s.
The top sphere is split into two levels, the panorama platform where you can slowly walk around and have a good view over Brussels and, on a good day, probably the whole country. The upper level is the restaurant and can be reached by another staircase.
The restaurant is normally self service but on the say we visited it was closed. They had taken enough bookings and weren't letting anyone else in, not even to have a look out of the top floor windows.
It was a shame that the weather wasn't particularly good, with low hanging clouds and rain. I'm sure we would have been able to see a lot further than we could. But I've never actually fancied the idea of overlooking towns and cities from high above. It may give you an idea of its size but it's not often that breathtaking - unless you are on top of the CN Tower in Toronto/Canada or similar high buildings. The Atomium is relatively small and low rise by comparison and because the sphere does not actually move, it's not even a interesting and fun as the London Eye.
Altogether we spent about 90 minutes at the Atomium but that was only because we sat inside for a while waiting for the rain to stop - or at least let off a little.
I'm glad I went to see it. At least I can say I was there. If I had to go again I would most definitely refuse, in particular at the price they are charging. On a nice day you can spend some more time in the area. Also, the Atomium itself will look much brighter and shinier than it did on the gloomy December day we went. But even a glorious day will not cover the fact that there really isn't anything of interest inside the spheres. Someone should bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a modern exhibitions and technology you expect nowadays, computers and digital display, and of course an area where visitors can find out for themselves what can be achieved. Activity areas are always more fun than a plaque telling you that 50 years ago something was top of the range.
Of course, if you are going to the stadium next door and have some time to kill, you could have a look, it won't take long and you, too, can say you've been. Then again, you might rather go and see a movie in the cinema centre or visit 'Little Europe', an exhibition of famous buildings in miniature.
All in all, nice to go and have a look but do not expect too much and you won't be disappointed.
Built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair (Expo '58), the 103-metre (335-foot) tall Atomium monument represents a unit cell of an iron crystal (body-centred cubic), magnified 165 billion times, with vertical body diagonal, with tubes along the 12 edges of the cube and from all 8 vertices to the centre.