The first thing that astounds you when you pull up to Titanic Belfast museum in Northern Ireland is the architecture designed like shards of silvery metal jutting outward six stories into the sky. The second thing that grabs you is the fact that it’s built next to the dry dock where the behemoth ship was bolted together. The third surprise hits you after you enter into the central atrium surrounded by myriad angular walls and openings without any sense of order, just like being inside a sunken ship. The entire time I was in here there’s a sense of “What’s around the next corner?” You’re never sure where you’re going and you’re constantly presented with something knew and unexpected about the story surrounding the Titanic.
That’s the cool thing. Titanic Belfast is not just a romantic recreation of the drama surrounding the fateful voyage in April 1912. There’s some of that but the many different exhibits examine Belfast and the shipping industry in their totality to present an all-encompassing experience of Northern Ireland socially, economically and politically in the early 1900s.
The mesmerizing museum opened in April 2012 on the 100-year anniversary of the voyage. Within the first six months, Titanic Belfast welcomed over 100 million visitors, which had originally been the 1-year forecast.
In the photo above, the lawn is where the ship was built and launched, in between the light poles. The 1,000-pax function space is located in the glass-enclosed top floor, highlighted by a re-creation of the famous staircase leading into the main dining room. As attendees make their grand entrance for receptions or formal dinners, they descend the staircase into the center of the room. The landing is especially well designed for performers or senior executives to address the group.
There are nine interpretive galleries arranged in chronological order beginning with “Boomtown Belfast.” At the time, Belfast was the largest shipbuilding and heavy duty manufacturing center in the world. The city residents and factory workers enjoyed technological advances ahead of much of Europe, and there was never really any other choice about where to build the greatest ship of all time.
After that, you enter the Shipyard, Launch and Outfitting galleries that describe all of the nuts and bolts of ship construction and interior design. It’s here where you descend down into the bowls of the shipyard (above) via the interactive 3-D Shipyard Ride to understand the massive scale of the Titanic. Authentic vintage videos are mixed with computer imagery to recreate scenes in the shipyard, and anyone will be impressed with the state-of-the-art A/V.
Be that as it may, the most popular room has one television that plays the actual footage of the launch. In the video, there’s a huge crowd of people cheering as the ship splashes into the water. Everyone in the crowded room, meanwhile, watches stone-faced.
The next three galleries focus on the Maiden Voyage, Sinking and Aftermath. It’s surprising how many photographs like the one above were saved by the 1st class passengers who made it safely into the lifeboats. In fact in March, the museum unveiled a restored lunch time menu from the last day Titanic was afloat. The chefs served consomme fermier, galantine of chicken and grilled mutton chops.
The final three galleries are filled with high-tech exhibits chronicling the Myths surrounding the ship, the subsequent Exploration undersea, and the Oceanic Exploration Centre. The high-definition videos of the shipwreck are spellbinding, and make sure you check out the interactive learning pods describing the efforts required to explore the ship miles below the ocean surface.
For me, however, the most powerful takeaway from this experience was seeing the pride of the Belfast people. Over 100 years ago, the city was once highly privileged but all of that was shattered by the catastrophic sinking and the IRA conflict during the last half of the century. Titanic Belfast is a monumental achievement and it’s heartwarming to see and hear the pride in the peoples’ voices. Watch the video to see what I mean, especially the ending:
Top photo: Flickr