5 March 2012

Titanic Belfast - Bright New Star on a City's Skyline

Something wonderful is about to happen in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  A hundred years after the Titanic set sail on her catastrophic maiden voyage a new center dedicated to the ship, her makers and passengers, will open in the city which built her. Titanic Belfast stands - magnificent and resplendent - in the very place the great ship was built. It is a structure as colossal (one hesitates before saying titanic) as the ship it honors.

It is the (albeit aluminum) icing on the cake for a city whose reputation once reached a nadir – seen by many as the Beirut or Mogadishu of Western Europe. Yet since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Belfast has undergone what can only be described, without hyperbole, as a renaissance. Visitors who remember the low points of the 1970s and 80s are often astonished by the transformation yet tourism is yet to truly burgeon.

Titanic Belfast hopes to change that – and even the cynically hearted grudgingly admit that it has every chance of doing so. It is certainly a gamble – it cost £97m (a cool US$153m). 

You can see where the money was spent just by looking at the bravura façade – even though some people have compared it rather unkindly to a Jawa Sandcrawler from the Star Wars movies (pictured left for quick comparison!). 

However, the interior promises to be something of a revelation as well.

A replica of the Titanic was, of course, out of the question.  As well as being the height of tackiness what Belfast needed was to look to the future as well as to revere the past.  The homage, of course, is unmistakable – it is inspired by hulls under construction in the shipyard and the parallels are driven home by some of the facts and figures.

You may get blinded on a sunny day if you don’t wear shades.  The huge bulk of the center is covered by 3,000 aluminum panels, sixty percent of which are unique.  The ‘hulls’ of Titanic Belfast are the same height of the original ship from keel to deck. The ship’s capacity was 3,547 people – the very same number of visitors that Titanic Belfast can hold at any one time.

Talking of people - a nod here to the (soon to be) long suffering staff who will work at Titanic Belfast. Why long suffering? Look at the two pictures above. Although these photographs were taken when the interior was still under recent construction, do they remind you of anything?  It will, no doubt, be the scene of a thousand Jack and Rose impressions per day. Imagine having to put up with that!

A century separates the two giants of their respective ages on the Belfast skyline but the time in which they were built is similar – around twenty six months.  There are 40,000 tons of concrete in Titanic Belfast’s foundations, nearly the same as for Titanic.

Titanic Belfast is to be found alongside the Titanic Slipways, the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Dock – the exact same places where Titanic was planned, constructed and launched in 1912.

The building plays host to the story of the ill fated liner.  As Belfast was where RMS Titanic was born, the history starts in her planning – and through to the launch.  It will also cover that infamous maiden voyage and the ship’s last, dreadful hours. There will also be contemporary tales to tell – how the wreck was discovered at the bottom of the ocean and how its exploration continues.

Altogether there will be nine galleries, each devoted to a different element of the ships century long history. Upon opening on March 31st, 2012, Titanic Belfast will be the World's Largest Titanic Visitor Attraction.  This is most certainly a city determined that its future will not be a footnote describing quiet decline and gentle retreat from history’s pages.  Titanic Belfast – the city’s newest and proudest symbol – will, one hopes, help ensure just the opposite.

All photographs by and courtesy of Christopher Heaney. Kuriositas would also like to thank Aisling Dinsmore of Stakeholder Communications for her kind assistance. Click on any of the pictures above to visit the website and buy tickets.