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Interesting Places: Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

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Taken by Misha Kalyustin (Михаил Капустин)

Taken by Misha Kalyustin (Михаил Капустин)

Quick! You’re going to build one of the tallest hotels ever, and where would you possibly put it on the world? Could it be London? New York? Dubai? Las Vegas?

Most people would not have answered North Korea, one of the most isolated countries on the planet.

Well, that’s where the Ryugyong Hotel is. This monstrousity of a pyramid-shaped tower, built in celebrated brutalist style sits right in North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang, not too far from the Taedong river.

At the top of the spire of this three-legged pyramid is a series of rotating restaurants. Seven of them. Yup. Well, that seems a bit unusual, but to put things in perspective there are a quite a few rotating restaurants in North Korea. Quite a bit of things rotate over there, such as museum exhibits and dioramas, so you could say that’s not too out of place. But seven floors of rotating restaurant goodness might be a bit much.

In any event, the hotel was never finished to the point of being occupied. It was planned rather quickly, as a Cold War era response to the Swissotel The Stamford, completed in 1986 in South Korea, which stands at a ‘measly’ 740 feet tall. If you’re going to build something taller, you might as well let it all hang out, which was probably what North Korea’s leader at the time, Kim Il Sung was thinking.

The Ryugyong hotel broke ground in 1987, and construction ceased in early 1992 as the country endured the trifecta of floods, famine, and the loss of their main benefactor (the Soviet Union had broken apart the year before).  Its 3000 rooms of vision pretty much stayed unchanged since then. Reports from visitors to North Korea indicate that there are visible cracks in  the facade of the structure, and the quality of the construction leaves a lot to be desired. Of course, the construction site is sealed off by a perimeter, and the ability to travel freely to take a closer inspection is basically nonexistent.

Apparently some construction has resumed recently, and reports are that the tower is due to be opened in 2012, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. Talks about workers focusing on the glass cladding of the tower were afoot, but photographic evidence remains to be seen.

UPDATE 23 Mar 2009 – The source of some recent images that have circulated appears to be from this thread at the “Korean Friendship Association”, an organization that is pro-DPRK in its political stance and affiliation.

I have saved copies of the original images here:



The original links to the images are below:



The local population does not talk about it, as it’s a bit of a sore point for their pride in general. The shell of the hotel is apparently not even depicted on local maps. But looking on the bright side, at least it didn’t burn into a smoldering wreck mere months before it was due to open like the Mandarin Hotel in Beijing, China was.

You can see the tower here in Google Earth at these coordinates.

Written by Tijger Tsou

March 1st, 2009 at 8:00 am

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