This totally weird ‘working monument’ was built for the World Trade Fair of 1958 at the Heysel exhibition park. The fair was the first such exhibition to take place following the Second World War and took a ride on the coat-tails of a newly vibrant Europe.
The Atomium has been dubbed 'the Eiffel Tower of Brussels', although that is stretching it a bit. As you will be able to tell immediately, it represents a giant atom - an elementary iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It is coated with aluminum, weighs 2,400 tons and is 102 metres tall - its nine spheres each have a diameter of 18 metres.
Since 1958, it has attracted 42 million visitors, with the average numbers increasing since it reopened 2006 after a major refurbishment which saw it close for two years.
Since then, it has lured an average of 550,000 people a year, compared with an annual average of 300,000 before the refurbishment. French and Germans are the most frequent visitors, followed by the Dutch, Spanish and Brits.
The Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the 1958 World Fair but its popularity and success soon made it a key landmark, first of Brussels then internationally. Half a century later, the Atomium continues to embody those ideas of the future and universality.
It now houses a museum with its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, and guided tours are organised by reservation.