The International Writers Magazine:Cultural Heritage City UK
so special about Liverpool? As a boy, with it being
my hometown, I used to conclude, Well, quite simply, a lot.
Unfortunately not many outside the city would have agreed. It
was a well-kept secret. But things have changed. Now everyone
is in on the secret. Its a unique place.
fact, it is so unique that it in July 2004 it was granted World Heritage
status and has been designated the 2008 European Capital of Culture.
Liverpool is now the most happening city in the UK. Its
economy is growing at ten times the national average, and tourism
is booming, with a new top-range hotel seemingly appearing on the
scene every month. Liverpool now ranks with Edinburgh and Bath as the
only UK cities to acquire World Heritage status.
World Heritage Sites are deemed to be places of outstanding universal
value. Liverpool won the heritage award because of its world-famous
buildings, historic docks and cultural quarter, which houses the
finest collection of civic buildings in the UK. The award was also
based on Liverpool as a maritime mercantile city and reflected the city's
significance as a commercial port at the time of Britain's greatest
I recently returned to my home city and my first stop was at the Maritime
Museum, housed in a former bonded warehouse, and part of the historic
Albert Dock on the banks of the River Mersey. It tells the story of
one of the world's greatest ports and the people who used it, and its
collections reflect the international importance of Liverpool as a gateway
to the world, including the city's bloody role in the transatlantic
slave trade and then later, emigration.
The Albert Dock near the city centre is a brilliant architectural triumph.
Opened in 1846, it soon became home to precious cargoes from all over
the world. Today redevelopment, costing in excess of 100 million pounds,
has transformed it into one of Britain's busiest and most cosmopolitan
centres and a top heritage attraction. The 19th century warehouse buildings
have been converted into an award winning attraction, housing cafe bars,
restaurants, shops, the Beatles Story, the Maritime Museum, Museum of
Liverpool Life, Tate Liverpool and top end hotels.
On leaving the Albert Dock, I headed toward the city centre and had
almost forgot just how stunning the citys architecture really
is. Office blocks and impressive ornate Victorian buildings rose
from the banks of the River Mersey, blanketed in mist, and resonated
to the sound of seagulls and appeared truly haunting. A triumvirate
of must-see magnificent early 20th Century buildings, constructed to
demonstrate the citys importance and wealth, dominate the Pier
Head, the focal point of the waterfront. The Port of Liverpool Building
always exudes an air of supremacy with its St Paul's-like dome and the
Italian palazzo-style Cunard Building sits next to it, adjacent to the
iconic Royal Liver Building, the citys crowning glory. It is not
hard to imagine why, on first seeing the city, most visitors would be
almost overwhelmed by the Corinthium columns and porticos o f the many imperious
buildings, designed to mirror French Renaissance styles or classic
Eventually I headed away from the river, toward the edge of the centre
and soon found myself surrounded by a host elegant and imposing Georgian terraces.
The city has more Georgian buildings anywhere else in the country, outdoing
even Bath. Rising up from the terraces is the enormous monolithic
red sandstone neo-Gothic Anglican Cathedral, the largest cathedral in
Britain and the fifth largest in the world. From the top of its tower
it is possible to pick out many of the citys gems, including the majestic&nbs
p;St George's Hall, possibly the finest neo-classical building in Europe.
Completed in 1854, its interior is arranged around a central axis, combining
the scale of a Roman bath with the delicacy of a Greek temple.
Liverpools architectural facade however, beats the citys
heart. The Capital of Culture accolade was awarded not just because
of the mercantile past, but because Liverpool remains a thriving
cultural centre. During my visit to
Walker Art Gallery, the national gallery of the North, a visitor
proudly informed me that it houses one of the most comprehensive
collection of art outside of London. Visual treats include Rossetti's
Dante's Dream, Millais' Lorenzo & Isabella and Holman Hunt's
The Awakening Conscience. Other classic Victoriana include Lord
Leighton's Perseus & Andromeda and WF Yeames's And When Did
You last See Your Father? The gallery also has an important collection
of Italian, Flemish and Impressionist artworks. As if to underline
its cultural role, Liverpool has more museums and art galleries
than any other UK city outside London, and even hosts the Tate Liverpool,
which is the home of the national collection of modern art
in the north of England and the largest gallery of modern art outside
Image: The Stuckists - Currently at the Walker Gallery Liverpool
Culture is more
than galleries and museums however. Its a living thing. Out of
all Britain's provincial cities, Liverpool is generally recognised as
possessing the strongest sense of self-identity, reflected in the peoples
down to earth attitude and the many achievements and events it gives
rise to. The city is in the Guinness Book of Records for being
the Capital of Pop because more artists with a Liverpool origin have
had a number one hit, than from any other location in the world. It
seems quite natural therefore that the annual three-day Mathew Street
Music Festival in August is the biggest free city centre music
festival in Europe, and one of the most prestigious. It takes place
in over 50 City centre venues and on five large outdoor stages, which cater
for an audience of over 100,000 people. The world famous Royal Liverpool
Philharmonic Orchestra and the Mathew Street Festival contribute to
make Liverpool Britain's Number One Music City.
There are numerous events taking place throughout the year, including
the Festival of Comedy, and Liverpools own version of Mid-Summer
madness takes place in July when a series of concerts are staged at
Kings Dock. Artists like Sir Elton John, Paul Simon and Sir
Paul McCartney have appeared at the spectacular Big Top venue at
the water front.
In the birthplace of The Beatles, you would not expect their music to
be too far away. And in August it's everywhere as the city hosts International
Beatle Week. For dance music lovers, Creamfields, UK's No.1 dance festival
is a must and takes place in the same month, and there is also the International
Street Festival, showcasing more street theatre than you can imagine.
Liverpools 24th Mersey River Festival in 2004 broke attendance
records, with more than 150 vessels taking part, alongside 100
plus events. The four-day jamboree brought in more than a
quarter of a million visitors to the area. The river is brought
to life and makes the city a fabulously vibrant place to be. The festival is
hugely popular throughout the UK and internationally.
My jaunt around the city centre was almost complete but one more port
of call beckoned. As you would expect from such a city, there are restaurants
serving food from around the world and pubs galore, from the modern
theme bar to those offering old world charm soaked in a seafaring
past. But I chose to rest my legs in Liverpools famous Philharmonic
pub, indeed it is one of the most famous watering holes in Britain.
Inside it's all mosaic floors and Victorian tiles in rich shades of
green, rust and claret. From the chandeliers to cut glass
decanters, and from the opulence of the mosaic floors to the burnished
copper engravings set into the bar-front, the whole place is a
monument to perfection. Its a tourist attraction in itself.
Liverpools treasure trove of events and sites have been
kept a fairly well kept secret until recently. However, in the wake
of it gaining World Heritage and Capital of Culture status, the whole
world is now in on the secret. So what's so special about Liverpool?
- Almost everything. And what's on offer? - Nearly anything you like.
© Colin Todhunter Dec 2004
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