The World's Most Astonishing Building Turns 50

By: AP
By: AP

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Belgium on Thursday celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Atomium, an oddity of modern architecture touted as the "most astonishing building in the world."

Built for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, the Atomium is a towering structure made up of nine giant aluminum-clad spheres linked with steel tubes. The sci-fi design represents an iron atom magnified 165 billion times.

Originally planned as a temporary attraction, it became one of the best-known landmarks of the Belgium capital.

Belgium is marking the anniversary with fireworks, concerts, exhibitions and special showings of classic movies of the late 1950s including Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless."

The World's Fair was the hot ticket of 1958, attracting 42 million visitors over six months, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower and France's Gen. Charles de Gaulle along with movie stars Sophia Loren, Jane Mansfield and Audrey Hepburn.

By the end of the century, the Atomium had fallen on hard times. Visitor numbers fell to just 120,000 in 2000. The building bounced back in 2006. After a two-year, $43 million facelift, it attracted 1 million visitors in 18 months.

The Atomium now contains a permanent exhibition of the 1950s, temporary art shows and a gourmet restaurant 335-feet up in the highest sphere, offering spectacular views along with local delicacies such as Ostend oysters and Mechelen cuckoo.

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