The city developed its role as "the Gateway to the Empire" rapidly from the 18th Century, becoming an important port for the transportation of cargoes across the Atlantic and the New World. Canning Dock, opened in 1715, was the first commercial wet dock in the world. Liverpool developed trade routes to the West Indies, North America, Africa, Europe and (as the 19th Century wore on), India and China, connections with the latter bringing a large Chinese community - Liverpool's China Town is the oldest in Europe. Companies such as the White Star Line and Cunard built huge commercial empires on the banks of the Mersey.
With the decline of the cotton industry and trade as a whole in the 1930s onwards, the port declined and employment fell accordingly. The city was heavily damaged in World War II, but a period post-war regeneration brought the city back to life and a vibrant musical culture grew throughout the "Mersey Beat" decade of the 1960s, culminating in the phenomenon that was The Beatles. The cotton trade was an important part of the City's life with organisations such as the Liverpool Cotton Association and the Liverpool Cotton Brokers Association playing a huge part in the importation of raw cotton and exportation of finished goods.
Following the recession of the 1970s and 80s, and periods of high unemployment and social tensions (there were a number of riots in 1981), Liverpool's regeneration was epitomised by the £100 million redevelopment of the Albert Dock complex, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The cotton industry's impact on the city may be gone, but like its neighbour Manchester, textiles play an important part of Liverpool's history and heritage. Today, Liverpool is a city on the up, with a vibrant musical scene, lively nightlife, and museums and galleries of international importance and architecture to match any in Europe.
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