October 5, 2015

Tracking the world's most beautiful train stations

Although I've seen Antwerp's Central Station so many times that I've had dreams about arriving there before having to actually make my way over there, its stunning looks never fail to pick me up. It shows up in pretty much every top 10 list of most beautiful stations in the world, regularly hitting the #1 spot, and rightfully so.

Inspired in part by the Pantheon in Rome, Antwerp's main railway station in many ways looks more like a palace than a train station. Some of the commuters who make regular use of it, me included, lovingly refer to it as the rail cathedral. Built in 1895 in the so called eclectic style which incorporates elements of many different earlier styles and constructed in granite, iron, glass and more than 20 different kinds of marble with both the in and outside decorated in lavish details, it truly is an almost overwhelming sight. The fact it's also utilized as an exhibition space for contemporary art only adds to that.

Unfortunately all this beauty has a side as dark as night. If you are somewhat familiar with Belgium's history and know that this station was commissioned by Leopold II, our second king, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what paid for all this splendor and it's not pretty. Not pretty at all. Leopold might have brought in the money but it was the Congo free state that paid its price in oceans of blood. It's hard to fathom that something so beautiful was made possible by acts of such a horribly vile nature. I worry that even in my own country this part of our history is beginning to fade so it is my hope that Antwerp Central may forever remind us of our darkest hours as the monument to our sins that it is and always will be.

Antwerp Central is actually the 3rd incarnation of Antwerp station but since this one has been declared world heritage it should be a keeper. This does mean that over the years our rail operators have been pushed to find some rather creative solutions to accommodate changes in both trains and rail use. The arrival of high speed trains, the longing for a direct connection with various big cities in the Netherlands and the EU requirement to link northern and southern train nets to complete the cross Europe rapid transit network required a massive undertaking that made more than one engineer scratch his head. Since the building itself had to remain as it is they ultimately decided to add several levels underground to increase capacity and to construct a kilometer long tunnel underneath those to allow the north and south tracks to connect. The result is that the Antwerp Central is no longer a terminal station and that the lower you go, the more modern things get. Late 19th century above ground, 20th century below and as you make your way down to deeper and deeper levels you end up in the 21st.

Belgium isn't exactly a massive nation so it's quite an honor to have another one of our stations regularly make it to the top in best of lists. Where Antwerp Central displays the grandeur (and terror) of old, Liège-Guillemins stuns with its fluid modern look. Having opened in 2009 it's not really that well known yet but its reputation is growing rapidly. You can check it out in the album below as well as other stunners such as New York's Grand Central and London's St Pancras, both of which I've had the pleasure to see in person but, and maybe I am biased, but I think we've got them beat! ;)

I considered taking some pictures myself but both my skills and my phone are nothing to write home about so... No need to put you guys through that. Instead I've decided to turn this post into a showcase of some of the most beautifully shot beautiful stations from around the world. Enjoy!

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