Belfast. A cruise through the pages of history
Belfast – a city with a turbulent past, traces of which can be found on every corner. What kind of a city is this place full of history?
There is something symbolic about Belfast, which for many years was divided and ripped apart by tumultuous conflicts and marked by a disaster in the form of the sinking of Titanic – a ship built in the city docks. However, today this hospitable city flourishes and the bloody pages of its history as well as the tragic story of the world’s most famous ocean liner attract crowds of tourists to Belfast. There is still an abundance of fascinating traces of the past and rich cultural heritage in this magical capital city of Northern Ireland, starting from Victorian architecture monuments and ending with the walls dividing the city in half – the silent witnesses of a long-standing conflict between Protestants and Catholics.
Famous historical monuments:
Town Hall, the Palm House in the Botanic Gardens, St. Anne’s Cathedral.
The most interesting architecture styles:
A breakthrough moment in history:
End to the fights between Catholics and Protestants.
The most famous for:
The construction of Titanic.
One definitely needs to:
Visit the Crumlin Road Gaol prison from 1845.
Something for gourmets:
The local whiskey from the world's oldest distillery.
A full-day tour:
Travelling in the footsteps of "Game of Thrones", visiting the Giant's Causeway.
A place for a walk:
Cave Hill Country Park or the Botanic Gardens.
Off the beaten track:
Following the so-called "Peace Walls".
C.S. Lewis, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Van Morrison.
Belfast will delight fans of the characteristic English architecture. Among the relics of the Victorian era, it is worth mentioning the unusual Palm House built in 1939-1940 – a cast iron construction created for the city’s botanic gardens. Moreover, the most prominent building of the Edwardian period is the neo-baroque town hall located at Donegall Square. Its richly furnished interiors are filled with expensive materials and works of art; on every step you can
admire carrara marble decor and stunning stained glass windows. Last but not least, an important element of the city landscape is the castle, whose first foundations date back to the twelfth century. Beautifully situated on a slope of Cavehill, in its current form (the so-called Scottish baronial style) it was built between 1811-1870.
Samson and Goliat
Belfast became an important trade and industry centre in the eighteenth century, most prominently for its shipbuilding and textile industries. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Harland & Wolff shipyard was opened, where two giant shipyard cranes, named after the biblical strongmen, still dominate the urban landscape. It is this shipyard where in the early spring of 1909 the construction of Titanic began – one of the most famous ocean liners of the twentieth century that was marked by a disaster during its the maiden voyage in April 1912.
For a long time the port city that gave birth to the unlucky ocean liner struggled with the stigma of being responsible for this tragedy. Almost one century had to pass before the shipyard was freed from the responsibility for the disaster, and it was confirmed that the shipyard workers did their job flawlessly. Today in Belfast there is “Titanic Quarter” and the city eagerly tells the story of Titanic, e.g. at the world’s largest, interactive and multimedia exhibition devoted to this ocean liner.
Half a century ago, the capital of Northern Ireland was the scene of dramatic clashes between the IRA and the Unionists – a conflict that lasted for thirty years called The Troubles. The origins of the conflict between Protestants – the supporters of British rule and Catholics – its opponents, date back to the Middle Ages. Belfast, the centre of democratic initiatives and Enlightenment thought, had for a long time remained untouched by the century-old disputes. The city once again became the centre of a political crisis in the late ‘60s. This conflict lasted continuously for thirty years and eventually ended with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
. Today, a silent witness of this historical event is called “Peace Walls” that are now covered with murals and graffiti. Constructed using iron, bricks and steel, this five to seven meters high wall divided the city in half, serving as an instrument to separate hostile neighbours. One of the largest and longest walls is the wall running along Cupar Way, which separated the loyalist from Shankill Road in Eastern Belfast from the Catholics from the western part of the city next to Falls Road. It was here that some of the bloodiest clashes during the conflict in the first half of the ‘70s took place.
In modern-day Belfast, the dust of the civil war that took place a quarter of a century ago has almost completely settled. Today, the capital of Northern Ireland is an important spot for moviegoers. You can walk around the Palm House here, and follow the footsteps of a character Paul Spector played by Jamie Dornan (born in Belfast) in the series “The Fall”. What is more, it is where the episodes of “Game of Thrones” are produced in the famous “Titanic Studios”. Younger people, in turn, will eagerly follow “Narnia Trail” that is based on the popular classic series of fantasy novels for children. Belfast is growing rapidly also in regard to cuisine. One must start a day with Ulster Fry that is the local version of the English breakfast. During the day, it is advisable to recharge your batteries with popular Irish dishes based on smashed potatoes with butter and milk, such as champ or colcannon or traditional potato pancakes called boxty. Excellent traditional dishes are served in one of Belfast’s oldest pubs: Kelly’s Cellars, opened in 1720, with cosy interior you can use as shelter from the strong wind blowing from the bay.
It is also worth trying the modern approach to Irish cuisine in Molly’s Yard – a restaurant located in a post-Victorian horse stable. Belfast will also not disappoint coffee enthusiasts, both those that like traditional espresso and people who prefer alternatively brewed coffees. The latter should visit Established Coffee, a pioneer of the local café scene, or Sinnamon, Espresso Elements and 5A Lockview Road, which are its biggest competitors. In the evening, however, you should try another drink that has made the Green Island famous in the whole world. Old Bushmills Distillery is a real mecca for whiskey fans. It is the oldest distillery in the world producing this outstanding drink continuously since 1608. In a glass of amber whiskey that has an aroma of ripe apples and cereal, you can find the flavour of Belfast: slightly sharp and nippy, that nevertheless leaves a pleasant sweet aftertaste.
In the docks, you can visit, among others, original SS Nomadic ship from the beginning of the twentieth century.
The best place to learn about the history of the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland, i.e. the so-called “The Troubles”.
Excellent pubs with long traditions (the oldest pubs are 300 years old) that you can visit on a guided tour.