Inside North Korea’s Astonishing Abandoned Half-Built Hotel

North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang is among the most spectacular and intriguing landmarks to be found in one of the world’s famously insular and mysterious countries. Indeed, the exceedingly ambitious project has been incomplete for years, resulting in an eerie and abandoned building arguably blighting the city’s skyline. Recently, though, photographers were allowed inside the structure for the very first time, and the images they captured of its interior were astonishing.

It is the exterior, however, that first draws the eye. In fact, the Ryugyong Hotel stands at more than 1,000 feet tall and comprises of 105 stories of accommodation, making it the tallest building in North Korea. Put simply, it’s a stunning piece of design.

Construction of the hotel initially began in 1987, and if the Ryugyong had opened when it was due to be completed in 1989, just two years later, it would have been the tallest hotel on the planet. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

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Unfortunately, building work was significantly slowed by the demise of the Soviet Union, which had until that time been pumping funds into North Korea. Consequently, construction ground to a halt in 1992, already three years delayed, as the money completely ran out and the country was ravaged by famine and electricity shortages.

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The exterior of the hotel had, however, been completed, and the contemporary media estimated that the cost of building work had amounted to a staggering $750 million. This was roughly the same as two percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

For that colossal price tag, the original designs for the hotel included 3,000 guest rooms, several casinos and clubs and seven revolving restaurants. None of this, though, arguably sits well with the standing principles of North Korea’s totalitarian communist regime.

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Regardless of politics, however, the building remained empty for 16 years. Then, in 2008, work on the enormous hotel finally recommenced. Indeed, the exterior was fitted with $165 million worth of glass to turn it into the glittering pyramid it is today.

Certainly, as North Korea’s highest building, this pyramid towers over the rest of the capital city of Pyongyang. And, simply because it looms so large on the skyline, it is a striking reminder of some of the country’s more ambitious projects.

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But back to the building. It is constructed from three wings, which come together to form its iconic pyramidal shape. And at the peak of the building are eight floors that were supposed to rotate.

But not much else was known. Indeed, the hotel, like much of North Korea, was shrouded in an air of mystery. Only a few outsiders are ever allowed into the country, and only a handful of Westerners have ever been inside the empty hotel.

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The Daily Mail’s Simon Parry is one of the few who have secured a glance. He described the interior as “a cavernous space and walls of bare concrete – layer upon layer of gray concrete shell with scaffolding winding its way up through the vast space at the heart of the giant pyramid.”

These photographs of the interior, though, were taken by Beijing tour company Koryo Tours. The images show an enormous, abandoned space built out of imposing gray concrete, which makes it feel more like an industrial plant than a luxury hotel.

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These shots must, however, show off the original design plans of Baikdoosan Architects and Engineers. The North Korean firm did, after all, oversee the construction project until it stalled in 1992.

From the pictures, it seems the interior is characterized by a central atrium that is overlooked by several mezzanine floors. It’s further topped by a huge skylight that looks up at the tower above.

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The size is brought home all the better by these interior shots, with the cavernous and deserted space dwarfing its rare visitors. Indeed, it feels full of mysterious shadows and unidentifiable rooms.

Perhaps, then, the Ryugyong Hotel was part of the government’s dream for the country as a whole. Certainly, leader Kim Jong-Un once said, “If we beautify the country by building up Pyongyang as an example and modeling the local cities on it, we can turn the whole country into a socialist paradise.”

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The huge hotel does, in fact, resemble the pharaonic pyramids of Ancient Egypt. However, it is considerably larger, standing at more than twice the height of the largest of the pyramids, which is the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Up on the highest floors, the hotel commands amazing views over the city, as you might expect what with it being the tallest structure for miles. Sadly, however, few people are allowed to enjoy the stunning vistas.

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The most recent development of Ryugyong came in the 21st century when international hotel developer Kempinski announced that it expected to partially re-open it by the middle of 2013. Naturally, though, that year was characterized by political and economic tension in North Korea, and progress was halted once more.

Ryogyong hotel in mist North Korea
Image: via reddit/Tek0011

The hotel now stands empty and unused, without even a construction worker in sight. It might resemble a rocket ship, but this unfinished hotel is going nowhere fast, stuck in time as a stunning, mysterious landmark, as it has been for the past quarter of a century.

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