Birmingham

England's second largest city with a population of one million, Birmingham is the United Kingdom's fourth biggest tourist attraction.

Always a pioneering city, Birmingham has been a leader and a pathbreaker in many areas. Advanced in both industry and trade, it has been home to famous people as well as famous trademarks. With its canals reminiscent of those of Venice and Amsterdam, it welcomes millions of visitors today. Indeed Birmingham's canals, lined with cafes and promenades, exceed those of Venice in sheer length. Opened in 1769 during the Industrial Revolution, the first canal linked the city to Wednesbury. The total length of the main canal and many small connecting canals was 278 kilometers in the 18th century, 182 kilometers of which are still in use today.

HOUSE OF THE CLAN OF BRUM
The inhabitants of this city, which hosted the G8 summit in 1998, speak their own idiosyncratic form of English, which you might find difficult to understand. The name means 'home of the clan of the leader named Brum' and natives are known as 'Brummies'.

Looking back at this big city's history, we see that it was a small settlement already in the 6th century. In 1538 only 1500 people lived  Birmingham. Metal production rose to prominence in the city when swords and shields were supplied to the soldiers fighting on the republican front in the English Civil War that broke out in 1642. Birmingham has gone down in history as one of the leading cities in England and indeed in the world during the Industrial Revolution, experiencing a Golden Age from the 1840's to the 1970's. Situated on the Rea River with easy access to coal, iron and lumber, Birmingham became England's leading center of industrial production in the 20th century. Some of the factories that were closed down in the 1970's are coming back into use today for cultural and touristic purposes.

CITY OF FAMOUS MEN
Birmingham is also a city of famous people. James Watt invented the steam engine here. Not content with that, he also put his signature on the world's first photocopy machine. As the universal unit of power in an electrical circuit, used even in Turkish to indicate the strength of a light bulb, his family name has become a household word. The first X-ray was also taken in Birmingham by a man by the name of John Hall Edwards. And William Murdock, who worked alongside Boulton and Watt, was the first person to develop gas lighting. To follow these traces of the   past, you can go to Soho House, a fashionable home where famous inventors of the time stayed and which is open to tourists today. Among Birmingham's famous native sons of the 20th century are Ozzy Osborne, Duran Duran and Black Sabbath. Lord of the Rings author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien also spent his childhood here. In addition to the famous people who grew up in Birmingham, the city is also home to the world-famous Cadbury's chocolates. Cadbury World at Bournville is a place where chocolate lovers can spend an enjoyable time while being briefed on the history of chocolate. The city also supports two fiercely rival soccer clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City.

RICH IN ARCHITECTURE
Victoria Square at the intersection of New Avenue, Paradise Avenue and Colmore Row, is the city center, taking its name from a statue of Queen Victoria erected here in 1901. The square was completely renovated in 1993 when Lady Diana presided over the reopening. Location of the Town Hall and Council House stand, the square also boasts one of Europe's biggest fountains, affectionately nicknamed 'Floozie in the Jacuzzi'. Birmingham is a city chock full of architectural delights, of which the Town Hall, built in the 1830's and surrounded by forty Corinthian-style columns, is just one. Immediately next to it, the Council House is a Renaissance-style structure built in the 1870's and dubbed by the city's residents 'Big Brum'. Meanwhile another of the city's important squares, the Centenary, is made up of 500,000 bricks, each one of which was laid separately by hand. Birmingham's St. Philip's Cathedral, which dates to the 18th century, boasts a magnificent Baroque bell tower, and its oldest church, St. Martin's, was built in the 13th century.

Housed in a lovely building in the Victorian architectural style, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery claims the largest pre-Raphaelite collection in the world. In addition to outstanding works by artists of the French, Flemish and Italian Baroque, works of contemporary artists are also on exhibit here alongside pottery, objects of silver and archaeological artifacts. One of the city's leading educational institutions,the University of Birmingham boasts a charming campus with one of the world's finest small galleries, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Exhibited here are the works of masters such as Degas, Monet, Renoir and Turner.

THE WORLD'S FIRST EXHIBITION HALL
The first exhibition hall in the world was opened in Birmingham in 1850. In its place today stands the ICC, or International Conference Center, where over 400 conferences are held each year. Next to it is Symphony Hall, acknowledged by authorities in the field as one of the best in Europe. The Birmingham Hippodrome hosts the Royal Ballet, and its next door neighbor, the National Indoor Arena, is used for concerts and sports events. Birmingham is a city that sets great store by the arts, and its many theaters, cinemas, art galleries and museums have opened their arms to art lovers. Broad Street meanwhile is the scene of the city's nightlife, where The Arcadian and The Mailbox rival Broad Street. Birmingham is proud of having a very young population and of offering entertainment of all kinds oriented towards young people.

THE BULL RING
The Bull Ring, which celebrated its 800 anniversary in the year 2000, has been replaced today by the Bull Ring Shopping Center which consists of five separate sections and is visited by some 20 million people annually. The Farmer's Market meanwhile gives local farmers an opportunity to bring their produce fresh to the consumer. And the district known as the Jewellery Quarter, where 40% of England's jewelry is produced, is a place where you can personally witness the history of jewelry-making in the city and the high level of craftsmanship attained. Browsing through the approximately one hundred jewelry shops here is a pleasure all its own.

THE BALTI TRIANGLE
There are also many lovely spots to attract nature lovers in Birmingham. The National Sea Life Centre is a venue where you can see over 3,000 marine creatures as you wend your way between tunnels made of glass. Kings Heath and Cannon Hill are two parks where you can enjoy a pleasant stroll, and at Castle Bromwich Hall you will be impressed by the splendor of the gardens of this 18th century summer estate.

Birnimgham has a sizable population of immigrants from the Asian countries, which makes for an abundance of restaurants offering the seductive flavors of curry, cumin, coriander and ginger. You must try them!  A range of alternatives is available to those who are eager to sample Pakistani cuisine in particular in the area known as the Balti Triangle. Literally meaning 'bucket', the 'balti' is a cooking pot with handles on the sides that has made it to Birmingham thanks to the many immigrants from Pakistan's Baltistan province. If you venture into this triangle that overlaps the districts of Sparkbrook, Balsal Heath and Moseley, you'll find yourself on an international tour as both the faces and the life style you encounter are transformed before your very eyes. Besides the many restaurants there are also shops selling clothing, jewelry and food items. And if it's Chinese you crave, you can make a stop at China Town.

Birmingham's day as 'the city of a thousand trades' may be a thing of the past now, but it continues to hold out a large number of surprises for visitors.