Belfast - a brief historyOur Flickr slideshow shows how Belfast has developed over the years. You need to have Adobe Flash Player 10 installed on your computer to view the gallery. Press the 'play' button to view the photos.
Early daysThe history of Belfast dates back to the early 17th century.
Although a settlement had existed on the site since Norman times, it really only began to grow during the plantation of Ulster when charters were granted by the English crown to develop land in the province.
By 1611, families from England and Scotland had begun to flock to the area, which derives its modern name from the Gaelic 'Beal Feirste', meaning 'mouth of the sandy ford'.
In recognition of its expansion, a Royal charter was granted in 1613, giving Belfast 'town' status. It continued to thrive, thanks to its location, adjacent to Belfast Lough, and soon became a busy port for wool, grain and food exported to and from Ireland.
Industrial growthBy the end of the 17th century, with a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 people, other industries had also begun to develop in the town, including linen weaving, brewing and rope and sail making. The rise in numbers led to other advances too, as Belfast acquired its own piped water supply, first newspapers and even a corporation (now the council) to govern the town's expansion.
By 1800, with around 20,000 people living and working within its boundaries, Belfast had become a major industrial hub. For example, less than 200,000 yards of linen was exported from Belfast in 1701 but, by 1773, that figure had risen to 17 million yards. The massive growth in the linen industry in particular was symbolised by the construction of the White Linen Hall in 1788, now the site of Belfast City Hall.
Success in the linen trade was matched with a rapid expansion in shipbuilding, which culminated with the opening of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in 1862 and the building of the Titanic in 1912. Other flourishing industries included ropemaking, iron, engineering, whiskey and tobacco.
Public transport and technology also developed at this time - gas lighting was installed in 1823, a railway line from Belfast to Lisburn opened in 1839 and horse-drawn trams operated in the streets from 1872. The city was not without its problems though as, like many other industrial cities of the time, conditions for the working classes were poor, with dirty streets, overcrowded houses and outbreaks of disease commonplace.
By the end of the 19th century, Belfast had clearly outgrown its town status and was known worldwide for its exports. In recognition of this, Queen Victoria granted Belfast the title of 'city' in 1888 and work began on a new civic building, Belfast City Hall, to mark the occasion. Other notable landmarks were also constructed during this period, including the Custom House, next to the bustling docks, and Queen's University in the south of the city.
Impact of World War II and the TroublesBy 1901, Belfast had a population of 349,000, rising to 438,000 by 1939. Traditional industries continued to grow but, in the 1920s and 1930s, the city also suffered from mass unemployment.
The arrival of World War II, and the subsequent growth in demand for shipbuilding and engineering, revived Belfast's fortunes but the area also became a target for bombing, suffering three air raids in April and May 1941. A total of 955 people were killed and more than 3,200 houses destroyed.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the advent of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, together with social and economic problems like high unemployment, a decline in traditional industries and a growth in sub-standard housing, gave many the impression that Belfast was a city in decline. However, the promise of political stability which followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought new investment into the city and helped to reinvent it as a modern, vibrant hub.
Redevelopment and expansionToday, Belfast continues to develop and grow and now boosts a population of more than 268,000. It has became a popular tourist destination, with many visitors attracted to both the city's fascinating history and its enduring spirit of optimism and hope.
Further information about the history and development of Belfast is available from the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau website at www.gotobelfast.com