Published Saturday, 31 March 2012
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness officially opened Titanic Belfast. (© Pacemaker)
Titanic Belfast has been built on the old shipyard where the liner was built and almost 100,000 people have already bought tickets to tour the £97m building.
Choirs, street performers and ship horns all played their part in celebrating the opening of Titanic Belfast, the dramatic structure in the city's Titanic Quarter that houses exhibits and visitor experiences devoted to the ill-fated liner.
The building was opened by the First and Deputy First Minister on Saturday and it is expected that around 425,000 people will visit the attraction in the first year.
The Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster was also at the launch, as was Belfast's Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile. Also present was 105-year-old Belfast man Cyril Quigley, who saw the Titanic leave Belfast Lough ahead of her maiden voyage a century ago.
The story of the Titanic's sinking, in which more than 1,500 people died, is told throughout nine galleries at the six storey centre.
The design of the building is based on the bow of the Titanic and has been built right beside the slipway where the liner was floated in 1911.
Peter Robinson said: "Titanic Belfast marks not just a commemoration of the internationally recognised story, but a new beginning for Northern Ireland on the world stage.
"It is a genuinely global brand that will be a superb draw for visitors to our shores reflecting the importance that the Northern Ireland Executive attaches to tourism as a major arm of our economic strategy."
A memorial garden has been planted at the slipway, with different-sized strips of grass and wood representing the proportion of lives lost and saved among the crew and first, second and third class passengers when the ship sank after striking an iceberg on her maiden voyage.
Martin McGuinness said people should be proud of Titanic Belfast.
"Titanic is such a global story that it is only right and fitting that it is properly remembered in the city of its birth.
"For too long, perhaps more than anything because of a sense of profound sorrow, the Titanic has never been truly remembered at home but all that has now changed and I have no doubt that Titanic Belfast will be a focal point for locals and visitors alike, now and in the future."
The launch also marks the beginning of the Titanic Festival, which runs until 22 April and includes events such as the MTV Titanic Sounds concert, a light show which will be projected onto the building and the opening of a memorial garden at Belfast City Hall.
Ms Foster said it was a "proud day for Belfast".
"Located beside the very slipway where Titanic was built, Titanic Belfast has an authenticity which will bring the ship's legend to life.
"Together with the exciting range of events that are taking place across Northern Ireland this year and next, this will establish Northern Ireland as a key player in the global tourism industry and a must-see destination for visitors from all over the world," she said.
© UTV News