The emergence of Antwerp-Central

Antwerp-Central has been voted one of the most beautiful stations in the world on several occasions, including by Newsweek, Mashable, and The Telegraph. A brief history of the construction of this architectural gem reveals that the building initially met with resistance from Antwerp residents. A quick look back!

Mobility in the past

Long ago, people relied on their feet for mobility. Those with wealth could afford to travel by horse and carriage or stagecoach. From the sixteenth century onwards, ferry services with tug-boats (NL: trekschuiten) provided the first form of public transport. Horses and people pulled the boats along the towpaths along rivers and canals. Only in the 19th century did the railroads’ development revolutionize the world of transportation.

Trekschuit - 19e eeuw

19th-century tug-boat

Development of the Belgian Railways

The history of the Belgian railroads begins with the historic decision to build 380 km of track in 1834. The first Belgian train would run between Brussels and Mechelen one year later. It was the first train ride on the European continent. Only England preceded Belgium with its first real railroad with a fixed timetable for passengers between Manchester and Liverpool in 1830. In further developing the Belgian railroads, Mechelen became the central railroad junction. From here, trains departed in all directions.

First stations in Antwerp

The railroad required a series of new buildings for its services: stations, guardhouses, sheds, and warehouses. The first station in Antwerp could hardly be called an actual station. It consisted of a single wooden barrack and a few large tents for accommodating passengers. On the site of the first station, a larger station was built in 1854 and given the name Antwerp East. The construction of wood and iron had to make it possible to demolish the building quickly in times of war.

Gradually a mature station district developed around the station. Beautiful houses were built along the Keyserlei, but the station marred the neighborhood.

Construction of Antwerp Central

In 1895 work began on a new station commissioned by financier King Leopold II (second king of Belgium). Construction finished in 1905, and the station was named Antwerp-Central. The building consists of a huge steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. Leopold II is said to have exclaimed at the inauguration, “Une belle petite gare, mais beaucoup trop petite,” which means as much as, “It’s too small!

Impressive steel platform covering

Nevertheless, the station flaunts impressive dimensions. The platform covering is 43 meters high (high enough to catch the smoke of the locomotives), 186 meters long, and 66 meters wide. The railroad hall shows massive use of glass and slender arches. It is a technological marvel of 100 years ago.

Station building by Louis Delacenserie

The stone station building is the work of Louis Delacenserie, a renowned Bruges architect. He traveled to Germany in 1894 to visit the great German stations. For the design of Antwerp Central, he eventually based himself on the old Lucerne railway station from 1896, for which he had probably seen the plans during his trip. He also drew inspiration from the Pantheon in Rome for the 75-meter-high dome.

Delancenserie’s plans met with much criticism at the time. They also met resistance from the Antwerp city council, who did not like the idea of building a five-meter high wall right through the city. But the station was built nevertheless. Luckily! Today it is considered one of the most beautiful station buildings in the world. The station displays, among other things, the coat of arms of Antwerp, the Belgian Lion, and the initials of King Leopold II.

Discovering Antwerp-Central with a guide

The central station is the end point of our popular walking tour “Highlights of Antwerp. On that tour, we depart from the center to all the tourist attractions of the city’s historic heart. With an expert guide, you explore the old city center with, among others, the Grote Markt, the Vleeshuis, and the picturesque Vlaeykensgang, then admire the diverse architecture of the Meir and end in beauty at the Central Station. The guide will tell you about the peculiarities and the thorough renovation and tunneling in 2007. Afterward, you can explore the building further on your own.

The extra information and fun facts provided by the guide will surely give you a different perspective on this beautiful building. Consider a customized tour if you want to spend more time with a guide in Central Station.