I like towers because they are so big, but so useless. They are hulking great pinnacles of achievement whose only stab at usefulness is as a radio mast, if they're lucky. The best ones were built either to prove a point: that a city had the cash and the wherewithal to build a tall building, or else to commemorate a special event like the Olympics or a World's Fair. They symbolise prosperity and constructional derring-do as well as being national symbols, handy navigational aids, and somewhere to put gift shops and revolving restaurants (This one looks a bit special - make sure you turn the sound up).
The tallest is still the CN Tower (553 m.) in Toronto which was erected in 1976, supposedly to combat communication problems caused by Toronto's new crop of skyscrapers, (I bet really because they just wanted a big tower). It is still the World's Tallest Structure, or so I thought until I read this. It seems strange that no one has stolen the CN's crown after all this time, especially when there seems to be so much inter-tower rivalry (Auckland added a radio mast to their Skytower (328 m.) in order to trump Sydney (304 m.) for the Southern Hemisphere crown. Even the Petronas Towers (452 m.) don't beat it. You can see how they all measure up in this page or this postcard (where they have taken quite a lot of poetic licence with the scale – size does matter in this game).
There are towers everywhere, and they tend to spring up in places that have something to prove. Building a tower can be the only way a city marks itself out from its rivals; it's like getting a tattoo. If you're based in the UK it's slim pickings. The Post Office Tower (189 m: I'm the wrong age to call it the BT Tower) in London is good-looking, but dull, as it doesn't really have a giant kitten hanging off it and it has been closed to the public since the 1980s so only corporate fat cats get to spin round at the top. The Blackpool Tower (158 m.) is small but beautifully formed, although it all started going downhill when they sold advertising space down the side and it became the Pepsi Tower. Sheesh. Advertising isn't all bad though, as in the case of the Polo Tower, hopefully still standing in Morecambe. That's the way to do it. Three cheers for Glasgow, who have built a very stylish tower (100-odd m.) which rotates itself [WOW] beside the also stylish and futuristic Science Centre. Unfortunately at the time of writing it is closed to the public. The whole tower is supposed to rotate on a ball-bearing, but not surprisingly, it doesn't actually work.
For the record I can recommend the view from Auckland Tower - out to beautiful Hauraki Gulf rather than over an urban sprawl. The view from most towers isn't that spectacular as cities quite often don't look that attractive from above. They just look kind of messy. The Sydney Tower is good, but best viewed from downtown when the monorail is gliding past. The same goes for the Space Needle (184 m.) in Seattle, built for the World's Fair in 1964. The Toyko Tower (333 m.) is a bit dull really, a sort of ginger Eiffel Tower which has a stunningly poor (it's in Japan remember) gift shop. Best viewed at night when the colour isn't quite as loud and there's a nice view of all the neon blinking away in Ginza. Others like Berlin (368 m.) and Montreal (175 m.) are very stylish but I've yet to try them out.
Thankfully there are many towers for fans to enjoy, so it's just a case of finding one wherever you're passing. The World Federation of Great Towers has a handy map, but it misses out some of the greats like the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle. There is also a list of communications or observation towers, which don't differentiate between tourist-orientated ones and functional ones. If you've got any recommendations, do get in touch.
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