Belfast has been shaped by time and circumstance. Its buildings tell the story of change and development, of commerce and industry, entertainment and religion.
Belfast city centre is the vibrant heart of a thriving metropolis, which has shifted over time. In the seventeenth century High Street was the epicenter, with ships coming right into the middle of the town. Where the City Hall now stands were once formal gardens for a castle. When the town built its own linen market in competition with Dublin, it became a place of fine merchants' houses, becoming the commercial centre from the middle of the nineteenth century.
Queen Victoria granted Belfast city status in 1888. Proud citizens built a magnificent City Hall which opened in 1906, reflecting Belfast's power, prosperity and prestige. Today, it still represents not just nineteenth century glory but continued pride and achievement. Some of the city's finest buildings surround City Hall, many connected to finance, such as the Scottish Temperance Institution (1902) and the Ocean Building of the Ocean Accident Guarantee Corporation (1902).
Belfast's nineteenth century growth was fuelled by its linen industry - which exceeded that of any whole country - as well as funding some of the city's most magnificent buildings. Shipbuilding followed, with Harland & Wolff
building the largest ships in the world, including RMS Titanic. This success was not confined to one company: Workman & Clark was internationally important and both firms built on foundations laid by William Ritchie, Thompson & Kirwan, and McIlwaine & McColl.
It is refreshing to discover that life in the city was not all hard work and industry. Our forebears certainly knew how to enjoy themselves. Exotic palaces of entertainment such as the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Hall and, of course, the famous Crown Bar, show that Belfast folk have always enjoyed music, comedy, drama . . . . . and the occasional drink.
The Crown Bar
The Crown Bar on Great Victoria Street, now owned by the National Trust, is a gem in Belfast's architectural crown! Described by the former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, as ". . a many coloured cavern", this priceless time capsule is a rare and remarkably intact survivor of Belfast's nineteenth century gin palaces. Its opulent 1885 interior, created by Italian craftsmen, is magnificently set off by gas lights and gleaming brasswork. Customers never fail to be impressed with its ornate stained glass, and plaster mouldings, detailed tilework and intricately carved snugs.
This awe-inspiring new building in Titanic Quarter delivers a state-of-the-art visitor experience that
tells the story of RMS Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage and tragic end. Titanic Belfast lies at the heart of vital heritage elements that form a cornerstone of Belfast's folk memory and identity - the slipway where Titanic's hull was launched, the drawing office where she was designed and the River Lagan where she first set sail.
Completed in 1997, the opening ceremony for Belfast's magnificent Waterfront Hall was performed by the Prince of Wales. The concert which followed included performances by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Ulster Orchestra. The city takes real pride in this splendid, glass fronted venue, with its copper clad dome, one of its true architectural stars. Recognised internationally as a concert and conference venue of the highest caliber, it remains Belfast's showpiece auditorium and is an expression of its confidence as a modern European city.
First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street
This is Belfast's oldest surviving place of worship within the old town boundary. Founded in 1644, the present building was designed by Roger Mulholland and completed in 1783. The famous Methodist, John Wesley (1703 - 1791), preached here in 1789 and wrote that "It is the completest place of worship I have ever seen....beautiful in the highest degree". The porch features a First World War Memorial (1922) by the renowned Northern Ireland artist, Rosamund Praeger.