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A new Titanic rises in Belfast

posted 31 Mar 2012, 05:43 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 Mar 2012, 05:43 ]

Once regarded as a no-go zone for tourists, Belfast is hoping its new 97 million pound (155 million USD) visitor centre 'Titanic Belfast' will lure a new wave of tourists eager to learn about the ship in the place that it was built.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM (MARCH 28, 2012)(REUTERS) - Two flares fired into the morning sky above Belfast on Saturday (March 31) will mark the opening of a 97-million pound (154 million USD) Titanic centre at the site of its launch, telling the story of the doomed liner which sank 100 years ago.

Titanic Belfast is one of a number of signature projects designed to generate tourism in Northern Ireland, better known for decades as a region of violence and sectarian strife.

Some 100,000 people from 20 countries have booked tickets in advance to visit the showcase building constructed beside the slipway from which the liner was launched by the Harland and Wolff shipyard a century ago.

Shaped like the vessel's hull - and the same height - the centre is covered in 3,000 aluminium panels and its six floors containing nine galleries telling the story of the doomed steamship and the Belfast of the early 1900s.

Paul Crowe, Todd Architects Director, who oversaw the building work said it could do for Belfast what the Guggenheim museum did for the Spanish city of Bilbao.

"Well the building is hopefully an iconic signature now for Northern Ireland, for Belfast. And hopefully is a beacon to the future. It has been likened to the Bilbao effect and what happened with (architect Frank) Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao where it initiated a huge regeneration for the city of Bilbao," Crowe told Reuters.

There is also an interactive ride and film footage of the wreck of Titanic in its final resting place 3,784 metres (yards) below the Atlantic - some of it never seen before. Near to the building stands the Harland and Wolff Drawing Office where the Titanic's plans were drawn.

In the dock is Titanic's refurbished tender, the SS Nomadic, which ferried passengers from the French port of Cherbourg to the Titanic and sister ship Olympic.

"It's very much a tourist attraction. We're not a museum so therefore we don't have huge significant amount of artefacts but we have a number of them which will help tell the story, such as letters between the passengers and their families or letters between (the shipbuilding company) Harland and Wolff and the White Star Line, the owners, those that enhance the story but we have nine galleries that are interactive, using the most modern technology," said Tim Husbands, Titanic Belfast Chief Executive.

The Nomadic was returned to Belfast in 2006 -- saved from the scrapyard after ending her life as a floating restaurant on the Seine in Paris.

"We're looking to get that balance of celebration and commemoration. It's a recognition that what happened to Titanic was a disaster but actually Titanic wasn't, so we're very much celebrating the workmanship and the craftsmanship that built the ship and the people and the individuals that were both on board and also that built it. But balanced with that we need to commemorate in both a respectful and educational way the loss of life and uses a sense of learning for the future," said Husbands.

The Titanic story has taken a central position in a major tourism campaign launched in 22 countries at a cost of 19 million pounds (30.23 million USD) and Titanic Belfast is expected draw 125,000 visitors a year from outside the British Isles.