A wooden station as a start…
Traditionally visitors entered Antwerp by boat, but in the second half of the 19th century this suddenly changed. A new way of transportation developed very rapidly: the railways. Belgium was the very first country on the mainland to develop a network of railways. The first track was opened in 1835 and transported passengers and goods from Brussels to Mechelen and back. Only a year later this track extended into Antwerp and a station arose.
A very first wooden building located more or less at the crossing of Carnotstraat and Astridplein, served as a station. In the very first years this area was rather desolate. It lay completely outside of the city borders as the city was still held behind its ‘Spanish’ walls, the present-day ‘Boulevard’ consisting of Italiëlei, Frankrijklei, Britselei and Amerikalei. That also explains why the Zoo is situated in this same area: grounds were cheap.
From the 1850s on harbour activity in Antwerp started booming again. The town drew thousands of labourers from the neighbouring countryside and new living quarters had to be devoloped.
Among others in the neighbourhood of the railwaytrack. So when, at the end of the 19th century we wanted to build a new station and extend the railwaylines further north, this had become impossible.
for a Railway Cathedral
A new station was built, ordered by King Leopold II who had a flair for developing huge projects. He is the one e.g. who was responsible for the ‘restoration’ of medieval Bruges. The new station had to be a prestigious building to welcome visitors from all over the world.
The architect de la Canserie created a building based on ancient examples like the Pantheon, adding style elements of renaissance, baroque and classicism, using new materials and techniques and in fact creating a showcase of the different kinds of stone that the Belgian soils contained.
In recent surveys the Antwerp Central Station was often listed among the most beautiful railwaystation in the world. So make sure you have a look at it now that it has been restored in its original splendour.