I grew up near Liverpool, and returning to the city after a few years was a revelation. Places I remembered as some distance apart were on each other’s doorsteps – the Philharmonic Hall almost next door to the Anglican Cathedral, the Everyman Theatre next to Paddy’s Wigwam, the entrance to the Mersey Tunnel just behind St George’s Hall.
It’s a vibrant city, constantly renewing itself and still bathing in the glory of having been chosen as City of Culture back in 2008. Yet the wealth of the city that produced many of these great buildings was built on the back of the slave trade and thousands of impoverished dock workers whose lives are well-documented and displayed in Liverpool’s museums.
At present, figures from the the Terracotta Army, the underground battalions of life-sized warriors that secretly guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, are on display at the World Museum. The unification of China under Qin was impressive but again the cultural advancements that we marvel at today were achieved at huge human cost and loss of life, many sacrificed and buried alongside the warriors and the Emperor they had faithfully served.
We ended our visit to this great city with a trip to Crosby Beach, where the hundred cast-iron figures of Antony Gormley’s collective sculpture “Another Place” look out to sea. They reminded me, as we commemorate in 2018 the lives of those who fought in the first world war and the debt we owe, that many aspects of our lives are built upon the dedication and the sacrifice of countless others unknown to us. It isn’t only the pioneers and people of extraordinary talent we need to remember but the many who bore the burden of the political and economic life of the past.