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Brussels' landmark Atomium gets successful facelift

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Brussels (dpa) - The Atomium, a must-visit Brussels' tourist attraction, has undergone a successful facelift and will be re-open for business early next year, Belgian media reported Friday.

The massive 102 metre-high steel construction - Belgian engineer Andre Waterkeyn's hommage to the atom - magnified 165 billion times - was originally built as a temporary structure for the 1958 Brussels' World Fair.

Although initially meant to stand for only six months, the Atomium gained international renown for its modern, high-tech and unusual mix of sculpture and architecture and soon became one of Brussels' most popular tourist sites.

The ageing monument has now been given a total make-over, with new stainless steel panels mounted to the nine Atomium-spheres. Refurbishment of the inside is nearly complete and a restaurant is being built in the globe at the top of the Atomium, giving visitors a panoramic view of the Belgian capital.

Renovation work started December 2004 and is scheduled to be finished at the beginning of 2006. Six of the monument's spheres - with a diameter of 18 metres - are already accessible.

The renovation is costing the government 26 million euros (32.5 million dollars). Some of the money was raised by selling 1,000 of the old panels covering the Atomium's spheres for 1,000 euros each.

In its heyday, the Atomium attracted 400,000 visitors annually. Extended opening hours and a revised walkabout are expected to boost the numbers to 750,000.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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