Costing some £77 million (with some £60 million of that coming from public funding) the Titanic Belfast Center is situated right on Belfast's waterfront and opened just this year, the 100th anniversary of the launch of the famous liner and its infamous sinking.
As someone who's had a profound interest in this subject and the era of shipping for as long as I can remember I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was upon visiting this center. Everybody knows the story. Factoids and images come to everybody's mind whenever the ship is mentioned. However that being said, this center, situated where it is, and keeping in mind the exorbitant funding for its construction, in my humble opinion, fails in its undertaking. It seems to try to be everything at once, and sets itself up to unrealistic and pretentiously high standards. Admission costs higher than Disneyland Paris and Guggenheim in Bilbao. BBC accordingly postulated this question
last March, will it then ultimately establish itself as a rival to those two popular tourist destinations?
So, with ridiculously high standards the center essentially sets itself up to compete with arguably the worlds most popular theme park.
Just to backtrack, I've been to the Cobh Heritage Center which commemorates and has a very nice exhibit of the town and its history -- particularly in relation to the many famous liners that have often visited its port. Attached to Cobh railway station it gives the real "Queenstown Experience" and demonstrates to you the visitor the historical relevance of the town, and in turn helps you appreciate it.
Similarly, I was in Foynes Flying Boat Museum. Situated on site you see through artifacts and snippets of newspapers and archival video of the time you get a sense of the historical importance of the place, and as a result of that you appreciate the fact that you are visiting a site that had great significance to history.
The Titanic Belfast just didn't give you that sense, and the exhibitions are much huger and grander than the comparatively modest exhibitions in the previously mentioned Cobh Heritage Center. And keep in mind like I did, this all cost £77 million!
Divided into nine galleries the center through several banners and virtual displays brings you through Titanic
's history, beginning with a background of Belfast at the time, the ships construction, maiden voyage, sinking, the tragedy surrounding it and its legacy.
And that's the problem, it is too virtual, such narratives are easily accessible on the likes of the History Channel
, and such random facts and figures regarding the ship and its time are easily accessible on the internet. And recreations of single rooms, such as the third class cabin below and the first class bedroom (below again) have been done in much more modest establishments and whilst a section of the ships famous Grand Staircase has been recreated it is not part of the tour, it is merely a function room for weddings and such!
An attempt to recreate the working conditions of the Harland and Wolffe shipyard back in the day is done through a 'ride' that takes you around a series of television screens that outline how the ship was constructed, how the workers worked, how the rivets were put in place and the like. But it all feels kind of sterile.
I also felt this way when standing in front of a visual on-screen recreation of the ship. Starting in the engine room this 3-minute-long video takes the viewer from there up into the modest third class accommodations to the higher luxurious first class areas. But it's just that, merely a video, not half as good as the 3D recreation of the ship available online here
. And again, it felt in a very odd sense palpably sterile.
What would have been much worth both the public funds that built the place and the visitors money would be more actual recreations of sections of the ship, things with more depth, feel and substance, to give the visitor a better impression of what being in the ship at that time would feel like, be it among the coal shoveling workers in the engine room, the accommodations of poor emigrants to the third world and the affluent passengers traveling first class.
The rest of the galleries are devoted to sound bytes and illustrations of the sinking and its aftermath. Apart from a few on-screen animations and photos there is barely anything that is in anyway tangible apart from a model lifeboat.
The ships sinking as displayed in several movies over the past decades is also acknowledged and the differences between the films over the years from the Nazi propaganda one made in 1943 to the famous James Cameron one made in 1997 are briefly contrasted.
The last gallery shows various videos of the wreck. Essentially a cinema it has one impressive feature, mainly a depth simulation on the floor which is essentially a TV screen that looks like it is three storey's down that slowly goes over the wreck like you're over it looking down at its rotted decks.
In essence to rehash my earlier overall feelings about the place, in my humble opinion its primary failing is in that things there are told to you rather than conveyed to you, I get the very same understanding about the Titanic
and its background that I do watching some documentary.
Unlike other museums on the island of Ireland I've mentioned, I am told the significance of the ship, its time, but the place doesn't make me feel and truly appreciate that. The center is the biggest launch in that area of Belfast since the actual ill-fated liner itself, yet with its size, with the finance put into its creation it in my opinion fails to deliver the memorable and unique feeling one gets from visiting a historical memorial on a historical site.