By Mario R. Mercado
May 21, 2014

The National 9/11 Memorial Museum, located in lower Manhattan, on the site of the World Trade Center, opens to the public today, Wednesday, May 21.

Except for the handsome entry pavilion designed by the Norwegian architects Snøhetta, the greater part of the vast 10,000 square feet of exhibition space is 70 feet below ground level, at the foundations of the original twin towers. Visitors are drawn into the chasm through a series of ramps, escalators, and viewing platforms that lead to the Manhattan core, its bedrock, where the museum—the thoughtful design the work of Davis Brody Bond, a New York City firm—divides into two, large square aluminum structures with a luminous sheen.

In one, a commemorative display of photographs of the nearly 3,000 individuals that perished, along with biographical sketches, some accompanied by recorded remembrances, offers touching, often heart-rending, tribute. The other houses an extensive exhibition of the events of that fateful September Tuesday and its aftermath: galleries with displays of wide-ranging objects and artifacts, from battered fire fighters equipment to a lady’s high-heel shoe; audio recordings, including phone messages from WTC office workers; and archival video, photography, and scores of other documents.

In the open area between the two structures, the largest objects are placed, a fire truck; part of the north tower radio antennae; a steel support, known as the Last Column, the final remnant to be removed from the site.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum is placed to the side of the 9/11 Memorial, comprised of the pair of enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, around which are etched in parapets the names of those killed in the attacks. Michael Arad is the architect of the remarkable space. There, among groves of swamp white oak trees and the rushing water, one can reflect upon the immeasurable loss of that tragic day but also on the unique diversity of the New York populace and the dynamic potential of its future.

Access to the memorial plaza is at Liberty and Greenwich Streets.

Mario Mercado is Travel + Leisure's Arts Editor.

Images courtesy of 9/11 Memorial Museum. Photos by Jin Lee.