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One World Trade Center fills hole in Manhattan skyline

[NEW YORK]The jewel of the New York skyline, the pride of a whole nation, is back.

The opening of One World Trade Center, on the site of the Twin Towers that were destroyed on Sept 11, 2001, signals a long-awaited return to normal in the Big Apple.

Since Nov 3, with little fanfare, some 500 employees of the media group Conde Nast moved in. They are due to be joined by another 3,000 in early 2015.

There are also support staff on site - brought into sharp relief this week by the spectacular rescue of two window washers suspended from the 69th floor.

The symbolic 541-meter tower - including its antenna - is the tallest in the United States and in the Western hemisphere.

Its tapered glass silhouette overlooks the Sept 11 Memorial, dedicated to the 2,753 victims of the New York attacks, along with six victims of a first attack on the Twin Towers in 1993, and sits next to the museum focused on the drama.

The US$3.9 billion, 104-story tower "is the most secure office building any place in the world," said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which owns the site.

The monumental lobby, with soaring ceilings some 47 feet high and white marble throughout, is protected by a special wall that can withstand explosions.

Its concrete foundation is 185 feet tall. A staircase is dedicated to emergency responders, and concrete protects the elevators and stairways.

The communications system was designed in collaboration with police, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security as well as private experts, Foye said.

From high up in the tower, the 360-degree view offers glimpses of the Statue of Liberty to the south and the Empire State Building and Central Park to the north.

For Big Apple visitors looking to orient themselves within Manhattan, One World Trade Center is a clear landmark at the southern end of the urban island.

For New Yorkers, it's a long-awaited sign of the determination to rebuild, slowed for years by political negotiations over just what should be done on "Ground Zero," and then by a hurting economy.

Initially dubbed "Freedom Tower," before its name was changed in 2009, One World Trade Center finally broke ground in 2006. Construction was completed at the end of 2013.

Some 65 percent of the space has already been rented out, Mr Foye said during a visit to the 61st floor, rejecting the idea that some were afraid to move there because of the site's bloody history.

Among the new tenants - aside from Conde Nast, which will occupy floors 20 to 44 - are online gamemaker Hi5, publicity group Kids Creative and the China Center, which fosters cultural exchanges between the United States and China.

In all, about 5,000 people will be working in the new tower.