To an average daily visitor Belfast is like any other British city. Tourists like to take part in one of the walking tours through city centre to have a glance at some of the most prominent works of Edwardian and Victorian architecture. After the shopping at Victoria Square it is essential to stop at Titanic Quarter to see the slipways where the “Unsinkable” was originally constructed. On the way to the most famous Northern Irish attraction, The Giant’s Causeway, only few decide to drive through Falls Road to see the murals on International Wall. But only a handful of people are aware of the real history of Belfast.
They drive to the suburbs to understand the extent of the ethnic conflict that has shaped the city. Most visitors are unaware of what makes Belfast special. It is one of the few, if not the only city, in the western World that is considered almost entirely ethnically divided.
There are 99 parts of some sort of defensive architecture and they follow the peace line in a non-consecutive order. Belfast is not only divided by the river Lagan into Eastern Protestant and Western Catholic part. Its division on religious grounds is far more complicated. Unlike Berlin during Cold War, Belfast consists of several Interface Areas scattered around the city. These areas are characterized by strong inter-community ties and territorial behaviour. It is just a matter of metres to come from a place with Union Jack banners, symbols of Orange Order and pictures of Queen Elisabeth, to a place dedicated to Gaelic language, Irish symbols and Catholicism.
Area boundaries are often the conflict zones supervised by the police. What the other side of the line looks like remains a mystery for many residents of these areas, because they are too scared to cross it to walk into an area of the “others”. It is evident that the peace line established during the times of Troubles is still the major divide that strikes territorial conflicts.
In spite of the peace agreements signed between the communities, this centuries-long conflict is not likely to end up soon. During the last decade new barriers have been built and many have been subjected to rebuilding or extension. Belfast remains the microcosm of the ancient Northern Irish dispute and even the formation of a new shared identity based on the history of shipbuilding does not seem to overcome it soon.