Northern Ireland

Titanic Belfast: A first look inside

Titanic Belfast
Image caption Titanic Belfast opens on Saturday

There is less than a day to go before the biggest tourist attraction ever built in Northern Ireland opens its doors to the world.

But while the public must wait a little longer to get into Titanic Belfast, the BBC has been given a preview of what £77m worth of design and cutting-edge technology looks like.

After a decades of violence, Belfast is starting to show a new side to the world.

The most ambitious tourism project ever attempted in Northern Ireland showcases the best of local skill and craftsmanship - just as the shipyard workers of Belfast did when they built the Titanic a century ago.

The stunningly brave architecture is a tribute to the Titanic itself. The external facades, a nod to the enormous hull of the famous cruise liner.

The panels used to create the shard-like cladding that adorns the side of the structure are from Carryduff, on the outskirts of the city.

Enniskillen produced tonnes of steel work which runs through the inside of the building - all installed by local men and women.

Northern Ireland's newest landmark stands in the heart of east Belfast - only a few minutes walk from the old drawing rooms where Thomas Andrews drafted the design for the world's most famous vessel.

The parallels between the Titanic and the visitor centre bearing its name continue - the architecture firm responsible for Belfast's answer to Bilbao's Guggenheim is based less than a mile away in the Cathedral Quarter.

Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: "Only Belfast can tell the complete story of the world-famous RMS Titanic. This project will give potential tourists a compelling reason to visit."

It is also hoped that the attraction will have a major impact on the Northern Ireland tourism industry.

Chairman of Belfast Harbour, Len O'Hagan said: "Belfast harbour already attracts 60,000 cruise passengers and crew every year and over 1.2m ferry passengers. Creating a focal point for the only authentic Titanic heritage in the world will enhance Belfast's growing popularity as a tourist destination."

Image caption CGI technology features throughout

Truly iconic

Cutting edge computer generated imagery, better know as CGI is used throughout the building - the latest incarnation of technology used by film director, James Cameron, to bring the Titanic to back life for an entire generation in his 1997 blockbuster.

The journey begins in Belfast in the early 1900s. Sights and sounds of the period surround the visitor as silhouettes of characters stroll through the recreated streets, a reminder that this is more than a museum.

Senior designer Steve Lumby's job was to pick the best technology to tell the story, but he said it was not all about expensive special effects.

"There is some very interesting technology, but let me emphasise that the narrative is the key element - the technology follows," he said.

"The ultimate aim is for people to get a real sense of the effort that went into constructing that ship... from design and technology, but also from the sheer manpower, the skill of the workers."

Once through the old streets of Belfast, visitors take a trip up a replica of the Arrol Gantry - at 100 metres, the largest crane of its day.

Next comes an interactive journey on the 'shipyard ride,' where the visitor can get a sense of what life in the shipyard may have been like.

You are assailed by the sights, sounds and smells of a turn-of-the-20th-Century dry dock - including even the heat from welding irons.

The story of the Titanic is not entirely one of tragedy, but is also what lead project manager, Noel Molloy, described as "one of the greatest stories of human endeavour".

"Here in Belfast 100 years ago, 3,000 men took three years to build the largest vessel the world had ever seen," he said.

The ship was launched from Belfast, 31 May 1911 and the visitor centre will be opened almost 100 years to the day from when Titanic sunk on its ill-fated maiden voyage.

When asked why people should visit the centre, Mr Molloy said: "We've built a truly iconic building, put in the world's largest Titanic exhibit and we're dealing with one of the greatest stories the world has ever known."

Titanic Belfast has already generated £1m from pre-booking of tours and ticket sales.

Over 90,000 tickets have been sold to people in over 20 different countries around the world - and that's before the doors have even opened.

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