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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Centraal Station in Amsterdam

What is Centraal Station?

Centraal Station is Amsterdam’s main train station, an architectural masterpiece located in the heart of Amsterdam.

Centraal Station

Centraal Station History

Just one glimpse of Amsterdam’s imposing Centraal Station, and it’s clear that there is much more to it than its utilitarian designation as a major transport hub. Indeed, it’s considered one of the very best examples of Dutch neo-Renaissance architecture. It was conceived in response to Noord-Holland’s rapidly enlarging rail network and the increasing need for a station in the middle of the city. By the 1870s, trains had become as important as ships in bringing people to the Dutch capital.

The majestic station opened in 1889 after eight years of construction. Its principal architect, the famed Pierre Cuypers, also designed Amsterdam’s grandest and largest museum, the Rijksmuseum. And their similarities are evident: the copious use of red brick, the numerous decorative reliefs, and the distinctive towers which combine the solidity of Florentine Renaissance architecture with a northern Gothic aesthetic.

Cuypers’s station was constructed alongside several other significant public edifices, now among Amsterdam’s landmarks. As well as the Rijksmuseum, a city theatre was constructed (the Stadsschouwburg), a concert hall (the Concertgebouw), and the Central Post Office, which is now a shopping mall. All of these were in neo-Renaissance or neo-Gothic styles, or the suggestive mixture favoured by Cuypers.

Centraal Station’s arresting presence reflects the ambition of its design: built to welcome travellers from the provinces and from abroad to the Dutch capital, it was also intended to venerate Dutch culture and the nation’s economic strength. It rests on more than 8,000 wooden pillars and one platform is 695 metres (nearly half a mile!) long. Its cast-iron roof, supported on 50 curved trusses, was imported from England and spans 40 metres.

Although it’s an iconic feature of the city, its inception did not go smoothly. First there was the challenge of where to find space for such a huge building, which was no mean feat considering that the area included so many waterways – another monument to the ambitions and expertise of Dutch culture in modernity. After considering various other locations, the municipal authorities decided to build the station on three artificial islands in Amsterdam’s harbour. This was met with dismay by many, as it effectively cut off the River IJ and created a barrier between the historic centre and the waterfront. However, it was warmly welcomed by many people when it opened, and rapidly became a symbol of the city.

In the eastern part of station you’ll find a special pavilion with an exuberantly decorated gate, which is the entrance to the Royal Waiting Room. This area has space for the royal carriage, although today this is mainly for tradition rather than for practicality.

Centraal Station serves nearly 200,000 passengers each day, and therefore attracts more visitors than any other of the country’s 60,000 national heritage sites.

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