Culture has always been at the core of Liverpool’s identity. Be they actors, musicians or poets, artists from all around the world have been settling in Liverpool for a long time, and contributed to the city being appointed European Capital of Culture in 2008. The eight legs of “La Princesse” – a gigantic spider which was showcased around the city to celebrate the fact that Liverpool is “the world in one city” – were meant to symbolize the different aspects of the lively port city, and define in the most accurate way what Liverpool is: “honour, history, music, the Mersey, the ports, governance, sunshine, and most importantly culture”.
A Multifaceted City
Liverpool’s architecture is beautiful and extremely varied. Each building is telling the story of the multi-centenarian port city, and several areas of its historic centre were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. Liverpool’s most iconic landmarks are probably the “Three Graces” which overlook the waterfront. This encompasses three listed edifices:
- The Royal Liver Building’s construction was launched by the Royal Liver Assurance group in 1908. It is one of the most recognizable and the most well-known of the “Three Graces”, mainly thanks to the two Liver Birds which are seated on top of the building. These two mythical birds are the subject of various legends. It is said that looks toward the Mersey is waiting for sailors to come home, and the one looking towards the city is waiting for the bars to open. Some people also believe that if they were to fly away, Liverpool would disappear.
- The Cunard Building was the headquarters of the Cunard Line from the completion of its construction in 1917 to the 1960s, when the cruise line moved to Southampton.
- The Port of Liverpool Building was the headquarters of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company until the end of the twentieth century, when it was turned into offices.
Other major landmarks of Liverpool include St George’s Hall (“one of the finest neo-classical buildings in the world”), the Church of St Luke – better known as the “Bombed Out Church”, it’s a memorial in honour of all the people who died during World War Two – and St John’s Beacon, a radio and observation tower which has been overlooking the city since 1969.Liverpool is not only recognized by its beautiful buildings, but also by iconic sculpture installations such as Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – which comprises one hundred iron body forms, and is sited on Crosby Beach in the north of Liverpool – and Taro Chiezo’s “SuperLambBananas” which have been scattered around the city since the 1998 Biennial of Contemporary Art.
A Day at the Museum
One would be surprised to learn that there are “more galleries and museums in Liverpool than any other city in the United Kingdom apart from London.” Most of them being free, they attract millions of visitors each year. Among the most well-known museums of the city are the International Slavery Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Museum of Liverpool, Sudley House – a preserved Victorian merchant’s house – and the World Museum, a Natural History Museum. I would also include The Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre, which is dedicated to the work of the nineteenth century merchant and philanthropist Joseph Williamson, who paid hundreds of unemployed men to dig tunnels in Edge Hill, so that they would earn their wage instead of living of unemployment benefits.
Liverpool also have numerous galleries including the Walker Art Gallery, home of Liverpool’s “most outstanding art collection,” the Lady Lever Art Gallery – which “houses one of the UK’s finest collections of fine and decorative art” – TATE Liverpool, the Open Eye Gallery – “the only gallery dedicated to photography in the North West of England” – Bluecoat, Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, and FACT, the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology.
Liverpool is not only a cultural hub, but also one of the biggest sport cities in the United Kingdom, and “the most successful footballing city in England”¹ according to The Telegraph. The life of the city revolves to some extent around the friendly rivalry between the Liverpool Football Club and the Everton Football Club, whose homes are respectively Anfield Stadium and Goodison Park.
Liverpool is also often associated with the Aintree Racecourse, which holds the Grand National steeplechase every year, after having been used as a motor racing circuit in the 1950s and 1960s.
Art in the City
Media has always been an important constituent of Liverpool’s economy, and has brought millions of pounds into the local area. The city can be proud of its cultural heritage as it was home to several painters like George Stubbs (1724-1806), and influential poets like Roger McGough (1937-), Adrian Henri (1932-2000), and Brian Patten (1946-) of the “Liverpool Scene.”Numerous famous English authors such as the novelist and playwright James Hanley (1897-1985), Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010), the writer of radio dramas Alan Bleasdale (1946-) and the famous playwright Willy Russell (1947-) were also born in Liverpool. Be it in Hanley’s “Drift” (1930), Bainbridge’s “Dressmaker” (1973) or Russell’s famous play “Educating Rita” (1980), stories set in Liverpool mostly deal with class conflict and family strife, which could be said to have influenced the people’s perception of the city. From the heyday of the music hall with Ken Dodd (1927-) – who was surprisingly only beaten by The Beatles in the charts – to the stand-up comedy shows of John Bishop (1966-), Liverpool heavily contributed to the British comedy tradition as well.
It is with cinema that Liverpool shares a unique history, as it is “the most filmed city in the United Kingdom after London.” For example, the Lumière Brothers’ cameraman, Promio, filmed the first tracking shot – a shot in which the camera is mounted on a moving cart – of the history of cinema in Liverpool. It is also interesting to point out that two of the most successful television shows of the 1980s in Great Britain were set in Liverpool: Alan Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Blackstuff” (1980-1982), a compelling depiction of the population’s hopelessness in the Thatcher decade of the 1980s during which Liverpool had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” and Phil Redmond’s soap opera “Brookside” (1982-2003), which is well-known for being one of the first British soap operas to have tackle sensitive issues such as domestic abuse on screen. They both “caught the national imagination at a time of economic deprivation and social unrest, and left an indelible reminder of a troubled period in Liverpool’s recent history.” Numerous feature films are also set – or have been shot – in Liverpool including “Backbeat” (1994), the biopic on Stuart Sutcliffe (the “Fifth Beatle”), “Nowhere Boy” (2009) – which deals with the childhood of John Lennon – and more recently “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (2015).
Liverpool has also several buildings dedicated to arts such as the Philharmonic Hall – which is home to the “oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra in the United Kingdom” – the Playhouse (the oldest repertory theatre of Great Britain), the Empire Theatre – which has the “largest two tier auditorium” of the United Kingdom – and the Echo Arena, a concert hall designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects and inaugurated after Liverpool had been appointed European Capital of Culture in 2008, which has hosted concert performances from such famous artists as Elton John, Bob Dylan and Beyoncé.Important cultural events also take place in Liverpool including the United Kingdom Biennial of Contemporary Art, as well as various music festivals such as the Liverpool International Music Festival, Africa Oye (the country’s largest celebration of African music and culture), Brazilica (the only Brazilian festival of the United Kingdom) and Sound City, which has “set the standard for [all] the music festivals” of the summer.
- Les ROBERTS. Film, Mobility and Urban Space: A Cinematic Geography of Liverpool
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