NEW YORK (AFP) - - The Statue of Liberty's crown -- off limits to the public since the September 11, 2001 attacks -- will once again be open to visitors beginning July 4, US independence day, US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday.
In a television interview from the head of the celebrated statue, Salazar called the reopening a symbol of President Barack Obama's agenda for "a new beginning, restoring confidence in the American people, in their government, and in our place in the world."
At first, only 30 visitors an hour will be allowed, and they will be selected by lottery.
The number will increase to as many as 200,000 a year as the interior of the structure is refurbished, Salazar said.
The copper covered statue rises 92 meters from Liberty Island south of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River.
Contrary to popular belief, it is impossible to see Manhattan's skyscrapers from the small windows in the crown, which face the ocean and not the city.
The statue's head is reached through a progressively narrower, 168-step spiral staircase, which was closed for security reasons after the attacks on the World Trade Center nearly eight years ago.
Currently, tourists are allowed into the statue's pedestal which houses a museum or to an observation terrace below, which reopened several months after the attacks.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he supports reopening of the statue's head, so long as it is safe.
"I've always said if they can open the crown safely, they should do it," he said in a radio address. "There's been discussion over the years as to whether they can because it's a narrow stairway going up and only one stairway rather than two."
"And if the NYPD (New York Police Department) can help, we will be happy to. But if they can open it, that's good news," he said.
The torch that "Lady Liberty" lifts skyward with her right arm was opened to the public too once, but it was closed for good at the beginning of the 20th century.
Salazar also went to neighboring Ellis Island, where arriving immigrants disembarked in the 19th and 20th centuries and where there is now a national immigration museum.
He talked about ways to promote the historic sites, which are visited by millions of tourists a year.
"Liberty Lighting the World," as the statue is called, was made in Paris by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, and its internal structure was the work of engineer Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
It was given to the United States by France in 1886.
The first sight of the New World for immigrants crossing the Atlantic, the statue is one of the most visited monuments in the world, and is considered a symbol of New York and the United States.
Helicopter flights over New York give tourists a closer look at the statue as do certain airline flights landing in New York and Newark
Last month, a low altitude flyover of Manhattan near the Statue of Liberty by a presidential Boeing 747 caused the evacuation of dozens of offices whose frightened denizens thought they were reliving the horrors of the September 11 attacks.
The White House apologized and said it had been done to take promotional pictures of the aircraft.