From being a small coastal trading town a thousand years ago, Bristol grew around the river Avon to become a port city and after London, one of the countries top three commercial centres prior to the Industrial Revolution. The architecture of the buildings reflects this long history, with styles ranging from Norman and Gothic to Tudor, Georgian and Victorian as well more recent developments in the dockside area. Bristol was a county for five centuries from 1373, was made a county borough in 1889 and became part of the county of Avon from 1974 until it was abolished in 1996, when Bristol again became a county. Culture and the arts play an important role in the modern economy and the city has a number of theatres, galleries, arts events and creative companies including Aardman Animations, known for its production of stop frame animation films, and is also home to the BBC Natural History Unit. Performing arts venues in Bristol include Colston Hall, the Theatre Royal and Bristol Hippodrome.
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery has archaeological collections and locally created ceramics and glassware, alongside exhibits from other parts of Britain and Europe. It also has a collection of silver and paintings by artists including Pierre Auguste Renoir. Located in the former docks, exhibitions of contemporary art can be found in the Arnolfini gallery and in The Watershed Media Centre there are photographic and digital art works on display. Built during the 1790s, Blaise Castle House Museum has displays which include casts of Classical sculptures, such as the Parthenon marbles and a range of artworks and textiles. Visitors to the house can see a collection of thousands of costumes from the eighteenth century through to more recent clothing, including dresses, shoes, hats and accessories. There is also a collection of toys from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including dolls houses, train sets, games and puzzles. Other attractions in Bristol include Clevedon Court, Clifton Observatory and Caves, Bristol Cathedral and Kingswood Heritage Museum.