REPORTING FROM LONDON -- One hundred years after her doomed maiden voyage, RMS Titanic lives on in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the cruise ship was built and launched in 1912 and where a new building of exhibition galleries opens on Saturday.
The massive Titanic Belfast complex, owned and managed by the charitable trust Titanic Foundation in partnership with Belfast City Council, is designed to commemorate and celebrate Belfast’s life as a shipbuilding center as well as the ship that sank after being hailed as "practically unsinkable" by her builders Harland and Wolff. The Titanic went down on its first voyage, which began April 10, 1912, with more than 2,000 passengers and crew from the southern English port of Southampton, bound for New York.
Five days later, she lay at the bottom of the North Atlantic with her hull ripped open by an iceberg. More than 1,500 people drowned in the freezing Atlantic water, leaving little more than 700 survivors.
The new six-story building designed by Eric Kuhne is a shimmering complex of aluminum shards as high as the original Titanic hull, occupying the original shipbuilding dockside and slipway where hundreds of vessels were built in the early 20th century. The area is now known as the Titanic Quarter.
Titanic Belfast is a series of nine galleries which open with a three-week festival of events evoking early 20th century Belfast.
Susie Millar is a great granddaughter of Thomas Millar, a deck engineer on the Titanic who drowned in the tragedy. Now on the board of Belfast’s Titanic Society, she says a visit to the new galleries “shows early 1900s Belfast and what was happening here at the time with all the sights and sounds of the shipyards and what it was like to work in them.”
She says visitors will see exhibits depicting the early days of Belfast’s docklands, with holograms and recordings bringing them to life. Then they can step into projected images of the Titanic itself, experiencing life on board and the iceberg hitting the ship.
“You hear the Morse code signal then the sounds and cries of the passengers in the darkness as testimonies are read out,” says Millar.
The aftermath and the inquiry into the tragedy follow and the visit comes to the present-day underwater pictures of the vessel since it was first discovered on the ocean bed by marine explorer Robert Ballard in 1985.
Belfast, more recently known for sectarian violence than as a tourist destination, is seeking to become a leading cultural center. The BBC reports advance sales of over 100,000 tickets for Titanic Belfast.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Titanic Belfast, a new tourist attraction opening Saturday. Credit: EPA