The Big Piece, preserved in an even bigger pyramid

I’ve been in Las Vegas this week, which gave me the chance on Wednesday to re-visit the Titanic exhibition in the Luxor hotel. What an extraordinary venue for the world’s only permanent display of items retrieved from the Titanic – a colossal black-glass pyramid, guarded by an enormous Spinx. Come to think of it, though, pyramids are supposed to be good places to preserve things, so maybe it makes sense…

For me, after being so caught up with the Titanic story for the last couple of years, it was a profoundly moving experience to come face to face with the centrepiece of the exhibition, the so-called Big Piece of the Titanic herself.

When the Titanic broke in two, as she sank, various smaller chunks crumbled away along the line of the break. The Big Piece was the largest of these. Measuring 12 feet six inches by 26 feet six inches, it was spotted by an expedition organized by RMS Titanic, Inc, in 1996, and brought to the surface in 1998. It originally formed part of the outer wall of two starboard cabins on C Deck, and is now displayed so visitors can see both its inward- and outward-facing sides. Much of the glass in the portholes is still in place.

The exhibition also features the actual wheel of the Titanic – or what’s left of it – still in place on the telemotor stand, as well as a reconstruction of the ship’s Grand Staircase.

Photography is not permitted inside the exhibit; to see images of Big Piece and its recovery, follow the links on the official webpage.

The French Connection – Cherbourg remembers the Titanic

I was lucky enough to get an advance preview this afternoon of the new Titanic exhibition in Cherbourg, France, which is due to open next month.

The Titanic called at Cherbourg for two hours on the evening of the day she sailed from Southampton – Wednesday April 10, 1912. Just under 300 passengers joined the ship here, including such famous names as John Jacob Astor IV, Benjamin Guggenheim, and “the unsinkable” Molly Brown.

One hundred years later, to the day, the Titanic exhibit will open in Cherbourg’s former Transatlantic terminal. It’s a new addition to the Cité de la Mer, an already huge facility that incorporates a decommissioned nuclear submarine, the Redoutable; an extensive history of underwater exploration; and several large aquariums.

Only a small proportion of the Titanic displays are currently in place, but it’s clearly going to be a must-see atraction. Without trying to rebuild the ship herself, the designers have set out to evoke several of her most important features. Each visit is intended to offer an “immersive experience” – albeit not in the same sense as the original voyage!

Visitors reach the new exhibit via parts of the Transatlantic terminal that have until recently only been accessible to cruise passengers. Strictly speaking, this glorious Art Deco structure post-dates the Titanic, but you only have to glance outside to see the spot where the great liner anchored, beyond the harbour walls.

You enter the exhibition proper to find yourself standing at a re-created segment of the ship’s rails, watching a huge screen that displays first a panorama of Cherbourg as seen from the Titanic, and then her next and final port of call, Queenstown in Ireland (now Cobh). From there, you can choose whether to move into the first-, second-, or third-class areas of the ship.

Sections that I was able to see today included a meticulous re-creation of the Titanic’s mailroom, and a mock-up of a first-class cabin. Those that have yet to be installed, but will be ready in time for the opening, include a “wireless room” where children can learn Morse code, and Captain Smith’s own quarters. The exhibition also broadens its scope to explore twentieth-century European emigration to the United States.

With many thanks to Laure Anne Forti de Marthe for her hospitality.