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Birmingham (UK)

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  Surrounded by sprawling motorways, bisected by canals and punctuated by modern shopping centres, Birmingham can seem like a concrete maze(迷宮)。 Best to set your bearings on the massive Council House, one of the few 19th-century buildings spared by World War Two, which has a domed facade overlooking the pedestrian precinct(區域) in the heart of town. This precinct comprises Victoria and Chamberlain Squares, which boast the most attractive architecture in the city. West of here are Centenary Square, the International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall. Also to the west are the trendy bars and cafes. To the northwest is the colourful Jewellery Quarter. Southeast of the pedestrian area are the Pallasades and Pavilions shopping centres and the City Plaza.

  Birmingham doesn't have a peak season as such. The main theatres shut for the summer, but all other attractions remain open. Large conventions and exhibitions run year-round, and accommodation can be harder to find at these times. As a rule if you go between May and September you're more likely to get blue skies than during the colder winter months, but, as any Anglophile(親英派) knows, the heavens could open at any time.

  It's hard to believe that the sprawling Birmingham we know today used to be nought but a small market town. The first rumblings(隆隆聲) of its industrial future came in the 16th century when local metal workers gained a national reputation, but it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that Birmingham hit the big time. Luminaries of that age include Matthew Boulton and James Watt, who built the first steam engine in Handsworth in 1775; William Murdock, who invented gas lighting(煤氣燈); printer John Baskerville and chemist Joseph Priestley. As the local coal and iron trade boomed and jewellery became an important industry, a massive system of canals was built to cope with the traffic.

  The enormous growth of the 18th and 19th centuries led to grotty(差勁的;惡劣的) housing conditions. Joseph Chamberlain (1869-1940) introduced civic improvements during his time as mayor and in 1911 the city's boundaries were enlarged to make it the second largest in England.

  Unfortunately WWII bombs destroyed much of Chamberlain's good work and attractive buildings were replaced by some of the eyesores(廢墟) for which contemporary Birmingham is known.

  The 21st century sees a Birmingham whose industries are at the mercy of a strong British pound and faltering foreign investment. It's still a successful conference city, with the NEC (National Exhibition Centre), ICC (International Convention Centre) and NIA (National Indoor Arena) continuing to host high profile events. The city even put in a bid to host the national stadium but lost out to Wembley, only to see those plans buried under escalating costs. Like much of the rest of the country, tourism in the Midlands suffered with the crisis over spiralling petrol prices, extensive flooding, and then the foot and mouth epidemic, which allegedly cost Birmingham and the surrounding area £10 million a week at its height.

  Birmingham refuses to be beaten. New construction work is still going ahead and multi-million-pound regeneration(重建) schemes are giving the city a much-needed makeover(翻新)。 Clubbers give the nightlife a thumbs-up and the cultural scene is undeniably happening. It may still be overshadowed(失色) by cities like Manchester and of course the capital, but Birmingham is determined to compete.
 

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