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Attractions in Manchester: Millennium & Northern Quarters

Chetham's School of Music, Manchester (photo by Parrot of Doom - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Millennium Quarter

The medieval core of the city was the area north of the town hall, roughly between St Ann's Square and Victoria Train Station. It is appropriately know as the Millennium Quarter, because it started developing approximately a thousand years ago, but also due to the major modern redevelopment which took place in the neighbourhood around year 2000.

Manchester Cathedral is not impressive by any standards. It was just a collegiate church during most of its 600 years of existence, and was only elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1847 when the city's population averaged one million souls to redeem. Founded in the 9th century, St Mary's was refounded in 1421 as a chantry college. Most of it dates from the 15th century and was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style. It boasts the widest nave in England (34.5m, two metres more than York Minster's). The cathedral was severely damaged by a 500kg German bomb in 1940, and repairs took 20 years to complete. All the Victorian stained glass were blown out in WWII and were progressively replaced by modern ones between 1966 and 1996.

Between the cathedral and Victoria Station is the Chetham's Hospital School & Library. It was founded by Humphrey Chetham in 1653 as a charity school for poor boys and a free library for scholars. It became a school of music in 1969, the largest in the UK. The 15th-century manor house was originally intended as a college for the newly founded collegiate church. Completed in 1458, it is the best preserved building of its kind in the country. The superb oak-panelled library contains over 100,000 books, including a priceless collection of 16th- and 17th-century printed works. Engels and Marx often met at the library to study and discuss in the mid 19th century. It is likely that the Communist Manifesto was first devised here.

Opposite Chetham's School is the Urbis exhibition centre. This futuristic glass building stands right in the middle of an infamous 19th-century slum known as Little Gibraltar, as if making a point that Manchester has moved forward. Opened in 2002, Urbis has hosted all kinds of exhibitions ranging from popular culture to the industrial history. It is currently being adapted to permanently accommodate the National Football Museum, relocated from Preston in Lancashire, due to open in 2011.

The Baronial Hall at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester  (photo by Parrot of Doom - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Arndale Shopping Centre, Manchester (photo by Mr Stephen - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Urbis, Manchester

Exchange Square, south of Urbis and the cathedral, has been completed refurbished since the 1996 IRA bombing and is now the city's principal shopping area. A 60m-tall Ferris wheel was installed on the square, first temporarily in 2004, then permanently in 2007. The former Corn Exchange is now the Triangle Shopping Centre and has a BBC Big Screen attached to it. On the other side of Corporation Street is Arndale, Europe's largest city-centre shopping mall. It houses branches of the Selfridges and Marks and Spencer department stores, an Apple store, as well as the world's largest Next shop.

Between Arndale and Urbis are The Printworks, a major entertainment venue home to a Hard Rock Café as well as a 23-screen Odeon cinema. Follow Todd Street, from Urbis to Victoria Station to reach M.E.N. Arena (Manchester Evening News Arena), one of the largest indoor arenas in Europe. In 2007, it was named 'World's Busiest Arena' for concerts for a record fifth time, surpassing even New York's Madison Square Garden in ticket sales.

Cotton, the material that made Manchester's fortunes, was traded at the Royal Exchange on St Ann’s Square, along with other commodities and finished textiles. The present structure is the third exchange building since 1792 and dates from 1921. It was then the largest trading room in England. Trading ceased in 1968 and the building remained empty until 1973, when a theatre company took advantage of its huge hall and converted it in a 700-seat theatre. The Royal Exchange Theatre was founded in 1976 and has been operating continuously since, with an average of 350 performances a year.

Northern Quarter

The area east of the Millennium Quarter, comprised roughly between Victoria and Piccadilly railway stations, is known as the Northern Quarter. It is Manchester's traditional clothing district and is renowned for its alternative and bohemian culture. You will find numerous bars and cafés as well as its mix of music and clothes shops. The neighbourhood has become an increasingly fashionable place to live. Among the gentrified constructions are the Smithfield Buildings, an old department store revamped into modern apartments. The artistic feel of the neighbourhood can be sampled at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, which creates all kinds of handicrafts, jewellery and decorative arts.

The Piccadilly Gardens separate the main areas of the city centre and is a major public transport hub. Once a decaying and neglected expanse of greenery, the gardens were recently refurbished in 2002 at the cost of £10 million.


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