Even before the official opening, this awe-inspiring six-storey building located in the Titanic Quarter district has become the pride of the city. Shaped like the bows of four great ocean-going vessels – and actually measuring the same height as the Titanic keel to deck – the Titanic Belfast is nothing less than monumental. Inside, discover the amazing story of the legendary ocean liner, who in her time was the largest moving object in the world.
Through a multimedia extravaganza of pictures, videos and reconstructions, the building offers a breath-taking tour through nine galleries, starting in the thriving city of Belfast in the early 1900s, with the original conception of the ambitious engineering project and her construction at the Harland & Wollf shipyard.
Gallery number 4 shows the interior of the boat, where you can descend the grand staircase that presided over the great hall and discover how the passengers' conditions and lives varied according to their ticket class. This vast reproduction shows the true setting for the great on-screen romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, back in the news this week with the 3D re-issue of the film, fifteen years after its original premiere.
The maiden voyage has its own space at Titanic Belfast, too, showing how, on April 10th, 1912, the vessel set sail in a blaze of glory from Southampton, bound for New York. And, of course, the tragic moment just four days into the voyage, when she hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.
The later galleries are devoted to research into the reasons behind the sinking of the great ship and the myth, magic and legend that has fascinated writers, filmmakers and marine explorers for a century. Finally, the exhibition takes visitors almost four thousand metres down into the bitter waters of the North Atlantic where the Titanic still lies on the sea bed. Awe-inspiring images show the ship split in two as it was when it was discovered in 1985 by the American oceanographer Robert Ballard, and the tour closes with access to unique material and details of the find.
The opening of this new interactive centre on March 31st, 2012, is no doubt a high spot on the Belfast calendar, but the city has already shown itself worthy of the public interest focused there in this centenary year and has plenty of other sites for those who want to learn more about the history of the ship and her birthplace.
You can visit the dry dock where building was completed, the technical office and the SS Nomadic, the White Star Line steamship that was built as a tender for the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic, while the TITANICa exhibition at Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, just over ten kilometres outside the city, focuses on the local and personal aspects of the ship's story. The Transport Museum has a fine Titanic exhibition that includes personal stories gathered after the tragic accident and links with the outdoor Folk Museum's recreation of working people's lives of the time, complete with shipyard worker’s home, carpenter's workshop and coal yard.
Throughout the centenary year, the city of Belfast will be both commemorating the loss and celebrating its most famous maritime creation with an extensive programme of events, many focused in the days leading up to the anniversary. For a full programme see the Titanic Belfast website.