Back in 1915, Hiroshima’s governing assembly opened an exhibition hall along the eastern banks of the Motoyasu River. The three-story brick building—crowned by a copper-covered dome that stood some 80 feet high—was used to highlight the prefecture’s various commercial enterprises. Just 30 years later, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall would encapsulate something far more nefarious.
At 8:15AM on August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress aircraft named the Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the still-sleeping Japanese city. Amidst the utter devastation, the exhibition hall—or rather, its remaining skeleton—was the only building left standing at the bomb’s hypocenter. While completely gutted, the structure’s foundations and central dome endured because the bomb’s blast vaporized almost directly overhead.
As reconstruction of Hiroshima commenced, the hall’s ruins were reverently preserved. The edifice—which came to be known as the Genbaku (“Atomic”) Dome—would become the principal landmark of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
The Peace Memorial Park, designed by Japanese architecture Kenzo Tange and completed in 1954, includes numerous monuments to commemorate the approximately 140,000 people who lost their lives. The most noted of these are the arched Memorial Cenotaph and the Children’s Peace Monument, a statue of a young girl holding a paper crane; there, each year, visitors from around the world leave upwards of 10 million folded paper cranes in remembrance and hope of a brighter future.
The Peace Memorial Museum, also located within the 30-acre park, houses displays on atomic weapons and peace education. The Main Building exhibits A-bomb artifacts and materials, as well as testimonies from survivors. The East Building, which is under renovations until spring 2016, includes displays on Hiroshima before and after the war, photos of victims, and a video theater showing documentaries, as well as exhibits of artwork and international peace efforts.
Yet the park’s focal point is unquestionably the A-Bomb Dome. Except for minimal efforts to maintain its stability, the structure remains exactly as it did after the horrific blast, a symbol of prayer for world peace and the elimination of nuclear weaponry. The ruins of a fountain that stood in the Promotion Hall’s garden were also saved.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the A-Bomb Dome stands as a stark reminder of both the horrors of war and fortitude of the human spirit. Each year on August 6, a memorial ceremony is held at the park.