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Ostankino TV tower: from fact to fiction

Published time: August 20, 2010 07:11
Edited time: August 20, 2010 07:11

If you are eager to get a bird’s eye view of Moscow, there is no need to take to the skies: just head to the Ostankino area in the north of Moscow.

The Ostankino TV and broadcasting tower, the pride of Soviet engineering, is Moscow’s tallest landmark. It took four years to build and was opened on November 5, 1967 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. Rising 540 meters, the tower became the world’s tallest free-standing structure and held this record for nine years until the Canadian CN Tower was built.

The construction of the 55,000-ton giant was led by ingenious architect Nikolay Nikitin. He succeeded in building an extremely thin and high tower that needed only a relatively small foundation. It is said that he came up with the design overnight: the inspiration was a lily flower turned upside down.

Nikitin’s work embodied the dreams of a whole generation of engineers and designers to become a technical miracle at the time. It now boasts one of the most diverse sets in broadcasting capabilities of any tower in the world.

The tower’s observation deck is at 337 meters, just 58 seconds away. With the help of binoculars, it is possible to see any building in Moscow, provided the weather is fine.

In August 2000, a fire at the top of the tower knocked out virtually all television broadcasts in Moscow and the surrounding area. The construction was badly damaged and it was even thought that the tower might be demolished. Luckily, after renovations, it was once again open for visitors.

Predictably, Russia’s major TV center is only a few steps away. The legend goes that during the opening ceremony in 1967, a broken pipe caused a flood in the building, so the schedule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who attended the event, had to be hastily changed. Brezhnev was taken straight to the tower, where a feast had already been prepared. When the leader suddenly remembered that he also wanted to see the studios, he was told, “Why leave the party? You can see it from here!” As a result, Brezhnev gave the TV center his seal of approval without actually entering it.

Several years later, a second building was added across the road. Construction was rushed in time for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. According to an urban legend, workers even left a bulldozer somewhere in the basement – some say they simply forgot about it, others claim it was easier to dump it than to get it out of the foundations.

Another legend has it that the TV centrer site was once the place of ancient pagan rituals and has for centuries been home to a ghost bringing trouble to whoever sees it. No technological breakthroughs seem to be able to drive the ghost away.