A sad anniversary to be commemorated in 2012 is the most famous maritime disaster in history: the first and last voyage, 100 years ago, of the Titanic, the White Star ocean liner which “God Himself couldn’t sink”. Built in Belfast and launched from Southampton, Titanic made her only continental stopover in France at Cherbourg late in the afternoon on the 10th of April 1912. Two hundred and eighty-one souls took passage, along with nearly 40 tonnes of meat, 10,000 bottles of wine, and countless other provisions, on their way via Cobh (Ireland) to the ship’s fatal collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic four days later. Many of these passengers were impoverished emigrants from Eastern Europe escaping difficult economic conditions, as well as political and religious refugees.
The story of their doomed crossing is told in a new exhibition “Titanic 2012”, at Cherbourg’s maritime museum, the Cité de la Mer, which is housed in the port’s magnificent 1933 art-deco Transatlantic Terminal building. Once derelict and partly demolished, the Terminal was finally put under conservation in 1989, and in 2002 the transformation into the Cité de la Mer was begun. The museum is in large part devoted to the history of transatlantic emigration, and the Titanic exhibition occupies 2000sqm in previously unused areas of the terminal building, including the vast baggage hall, with extensive archives, photos, and testimonies of the passengers, their arrival in Cherbourg and life aboard, bringing the ship’s doomed maiden voyage vividly back to life. The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to the ship itself: its construction, running, and of course the fatal collision and sinking. “Titanic 2012” is being staged in conjunction with the “Titanic Cities Network” - an affiliation of maritime and city museums in Belfast, Southampton, Liverpool, Halifax NS, Cobh, and New York - other international institutions concerned with the history of maritime migration, and the Association Française du Titanic which is devoted to research on the ship and its French passengers/emigrants, and which publishes an info letter called “Latitude 41”.