The subject for this week is Antwerp’s beautiful central train station. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antwerpen-Centraal_railway_station (English) or, slightly better even, https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Station_Antwerpen-Centraal (Dutch). Apart from the pictures every single one will be ‘smartened up’ with one or two details. This picture shows the front façade (Koningin Astridplein) – Queen Astrid Square). Detail. The first, original station (1836), was an entire wooden one and the terminus of the railway line Mechelen-Antwerp.
When looking at the front façade the entrance if Antwerp’s Zoo -see last week- is to the left and the entrance to the station-building around the corner to the right. The main entrance looks like this – seen from De Keyserlei. Detail. Already seven years later, in 1843, a connection was made to the north, ending up in Roosendaal, The Netherlands, converting the station from a terminus to a through station for the first time. The building was replaced by a better/bigger one in 1854 – still all timber.
The iron side of the station, as seen from the main entrance. Detail. In 1873 the station became a terminus again as a ground-floor uninterrupted connection towards The Netherlands was no longer possible in the centre of the busy city. A new, elevated, railway track was constructed around the city.
The entrance hall is a really impressive one. Detail. Antwerp’s third, and present, train station was built between 1899 and 1905 – in stone this time which has, according to a lady at the tourist-office and absolutely obvious, also to do with the large steam-locomotives and the danger they inflict.
A detail of the building gives a good impression of the used materials as well as its sturdiness. Detail. The style, administered by the architect Louis (Joseph Jean Baptiste) Delacenserie (1838 - 1909), assisted by Charles Poupaert (1874 - 1935), is an eclectical one.
Shown here is the wall between the entrance hall and the upper level of the station. Detail. When King Leopold II (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_II_of_Belgium, very interesting!) re-opened this superb train station on 11 August 1905 he supposedly commented: ‘C'est une petite belle gare’ (It’s a nice little station).
At the same level there’s the glorious brasserie-restaurant ‘Le Royal Café’. And royal it is! Detail. Delacenserie was inspired by the old railway station in Luzern (Switzerland) and Rome’s Pantheon. The summit of the station is a 75 meters (250 feet) high dome.
The interior of ‘Le Royal Café’. We did not exaggerate when we said it is royal indeed. Detail. Halfway the last century the building was in a poor condition. A possible demolishment(!) was avoided after the station became a ‘protected monument’ around 1975.
An interesting detail inside ‘Le Royal Café’. Apart from the initials ‘KB’ (Koninkrijk België – Kingdom of Belgium) and ‘RB’ (Royaume Belgique) high on the wall there’s this reference to the year 1830. Detail. The first train in Belgium (‘De Pijl’ – ‘The Arrow’) travelled on the 5th of May 1835 from Brussels to Mechelen. (Therefore not to Antwerp, let alone in 1830. The tourist office was unable to solve this ‘riddle’.)
Nowadays the Antwerp train station has four levels. There are two terminuses, being +1 and -1. On zero there are shops. The only through station-level is on -2. Detail. Initially not a lot happened after 1975. Therefore the NMBS (Belgian rail company) announced in December 1985 the closure of the station at the end of January 1986 because of safety reasons. Later on during that same month, December 1985, it was decided to renovate the entire station. The process started in March 1986 and continued until the radical changes (in 1998), due to the incorporation of Antwerp’s station into the high-speed railway-network (Thalys).
The highest level of the station, +1. It’s clearly visible that this is a terminus-type station, like most of the train stations in, say, London and Paris. Detail. During the 80s and 90s of last century the glass of the huge station-roof has been replaced by sheets of polycarbonate. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycarbonate if this name makes you curious.
The roof when seen from the outside. Wow! Details. The American weekly Newsweek judged the station in 2009 as one of the top-stations in the world, to be exact: the fourth. The station was in 2010 Europe’s number one by visitors of StedenTripper.com. There it is, finally: in 2014 the British-American news site Mashable declared Antwerp’s train station the most beautiful worldwide.
A picture taken on level 0, the ‘shop-level’. Note the train at +1-level. Detail. Level +1 has 6 terminal-tracks: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Level -1 has 4 terminal-tracks: 11, 12, 13 and 14. Level -2 finally has 4 through-tracks: 21, 22, 23 and 24, beginning/ending up with 2 tracks outside the station. (We did not work out yet what the system of numbering has been like.)
Comfortably descending by using the station’s escalator-system we are here at level -1. Detail. The station had a capacity-problem already for decades. There was a shortage of tracks as well as platforms and the problem was enhanced by the capacity/time-consuming necessity of turning-around.
The construction of the north-south connection underneath Antwerp started in 1998. A festive opening took place on the 23th of March 2007. The tracks are situated at level -2 of Antwerp’s train station. The new, 4 kilometers (2,5 miles) long, tunnel makes an uninterrupted voyage from Amsterdam to Paris -and vice-versa, possible. Detail. The north-south connection has cost only 1,6 milliard (billion) euro’s – one-thousand-and-six-hundred million euro’s.
Here he/she is: the iconic Thalys – on its way from Paris to Amsterdam. Note the blown-off first layer of lacquer on the side. Even the highest quality of lacquer cannot resist the powers that are created by a speed of, mostly, regularly, 300 kilometers (185 miles) per hour. Detail. A brand-new train, called ‘Fyra’, was supposed to serve between Amsterdam and Brussels. It did. Well, only from 9 December 2012 until 17 January 2013. In case anybody is interested in this genuine drama, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fyra.
It’s luxurious and sensational – at least when one’s able to travel first class. Comfortable, fast and far less fuzz than when traveling by airplane. Detail. We’re out of details for the moment.
On the outer wall of the station building it reads: MDCCCCV. That’s 1000 + 500 + 100 + 100 + 100 + 100 + 5 = 1905. Nothing wrong with that, the building was (re)opened in 1905.
The inner wall now, where it reads: (Anno) MCMV. That’s 1000 – 100 + 1000 + 5 = 1905. Interesting! See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_numerals. Hope to meet again next week.