Top 10 Facts about the Atomium in Brussels


You definitely got it right if the first thought that crossed your mind was a landmark shaped like an atom. The Atomium is an iconic building in Brussels originally constructed for Expo ’58, the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

It symbolizes a crystallized molecule of iron that has been magnified to about 165 billion times. This landmark is one of the most famous in Belgium.

The genius responsible for this architecture wonder is Andre Waterkeyn. Since its construction, the Atomium remains to be futuristic, scientific and a beauty to behold.

It is 102 meters tall and has steel spheres that resemble the unit cell of an iron crystal. Only five of the steel balls are open to the public. There is an on-site restaurant in the highest sphere. For the best view of the city, the restaurant is the best place to be.

Here are the top 10 facts about the Atomium, the most sought-after destination in Brussels.

1. It was the main pavilion for the Expo 58

By Archiv der Evangelischen Kirche im Rheinland – Wikimedia

The Atomium was built as the main pavilion and icon of the 1958 World Expo of Brussels (Expo 58). It was built to embody the faith in scientific progress at the time.

It depicts nine iron atoms in the shape of the unit cell of an iron crystal. The construction of the Atomium was a technical feat.

The original design of the Atomium had no support features. Most of the structure was simply designed to rest on the spheres.

This would have been disastrous during windy weather. Wind tunnel tests proved that the structure would have overturned in an 80 km/h wind. Support columns were added to provide enough resistance against overturning.

2. The Atomium was not meant to last this long

The Atomium was not intended to survive the 1958 World Expo, it was designed to last six months.

To the surprise of the Expo organizers, the structure became popular and an architectural success in Brussels. Plans to have it pulled down kept getting pushed every year. 

However, for thirty years, little maintenance work was done and it started to deteriorate.

Renovations were done and it is protected by the society of SABAM the Belgian association of authors, composers and publishers.

It is still one of the most popular landmarks in the city.

3. It was renovated for a light show

By Kemeter – Wikimedia

The structure as you see it today is preserved almost in its original condition.

The renovation work was done between 2004 and 2006. It involved comprehensive renovation work since the building was in a bad shape.

This was done in order to create a beautiful light show with more than 2,970 LEDs sparkling during the night.

The lights were tested in 2005. They can flash simultaneously symbolising the range of an electron around its core.

The interior lighting was done by a German industrial designer Ingo Maure.

4. The spheres are made of steel and aluminium

By Trougnouf – Wikimedia

Renovation work of the Atomium included replacing the faded aluminium sheets on the spheres with stainless steel.

There are nine large spheres that represent atoms. The spheres are joined by tubes and are made of steel covered with aluminium.

5. It was symbolic during its construction

While this massive steel structure is a popular tourist attraction today, its main purpose was to symbolize peace.

It was constructed for the first post-war universal world exhibition. The nine spheres represent the faith one had in the power of science and moreover in nuclear power.

The Atomium represented the faith in scientific progress as the centre of the progress for humanity at large.

Three engineers worked on the building, Belgian engineer André Waterkeyn and his brothers in law André and Jean Polak.

6. The design of the Atomium is copyrighted

By o palsson – Wikimedia

SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, owns the worldwide intellectual property rights of this building’s design. They control all reproductions of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS).

Violators of the law are forced to remove all images of the Atomium from their pages an example is a United States website that was ordered to remove them.

Some people have found this law to be absurd.

7. There is a museum in one of the spheres

In addition to being an incredible and unique monument, the Atomium also contains an extraordinary museum. The museum welcomes about 600,000 tourists each year.

Only five of the nine spheres are open to the public, this is due to safety precautions. There are both permanent and rotating exhibitions held in the five spheres.

On a clear day, one can see as far as Antwerp from the restaurant.

8. There is an escalator connecting the spheres

By Harald Hoyer – Wikimedia

For ease of movement within the Spheres, the designers included escalators. The elevator at the Atomium can take up to 22 people.

The escalators take visitors to all the spheres that host different exhibitions events and a restaurant. They are the longest in Europe. For the best panoramic view, the top spere is where to be.

No matter the season, the experience at the Atomium is one to look forward to.

9. There are several attractions nearby

While you may be awed by this massive steel and aluminium, there are other attractions nearby. Just close by is the Mini-Europe theme park, the Kinepolis cinema complex and a water park with slides and pools and the Manneken Pis.

There is also the Chinese Pavilion and Japanese Tower which makes the Heysel area a complete day trip in itself.

10. It does not really represent an iron atom

By Kemeter – Wikimedia

Well to most of us the Atomium looks like an iron atom from what we learnt in chemistry. But that may not be true.

The Atomium in fact does represent one unit cell of pure iron. Ideally, this is how it would look like if it was kept under room temperature and under atmospheric pressure.

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