Visiting Ghent, Belgium: Gent-Sint-Pieters railroad station and the 1913 Universal and International Exhibition

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Booking hall of Ghent-Sint-Pieters railroad station
Booking hall of Ghent-Sint-Pieters railroad station | Source
Ghent, 'Sint-Pietersstation'
Ghent, 'Sint-Pietersstation' | Source
'Gent Sint Pieters'
'Gent Sint Pieters' | Source

Opulence and historical memories

This remarkable building — the sort of place that many visitors to Ghent (Dutch: Gent ) would expect to go through rather than to — is itself an important part of the city's architectural heritage.

Some history and features

It was built in 1912, the successful aim was to be ready for the Universal and International Exhibition (Dutch: Wereldtentoonstelling ) held in in 1913 Ghent in what today is administratively the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams Gewest ). Not only was the convenience of facilities for the huge numbers of visitors in mind, but also its status as a showcase by which the city, Flanders and Belgium could be presented in a very attractive and positive light.

The architect was Louis Cloquet (1849-1920)(1), who employed an eclectic style, and substantially used red brick to execute the building. A leading feature is the station's clock tower, a familiar landmark, given its prominence. The brickwork of this asymmetrically placed tower was found to be structurally unsafe in 2005; the tower was rebuilt in 2006.

12 platforms are connected by a tunnel to the booking hall area. In the interior, mural art includes colourful and striking depictions of buildings in leading cities such as Ghent and Bruges. Various landmark buildings of Belgium may be distinguished in the murals, as may be various brightly painted provincial and municipal arms. This complemented the fact that at the 1913 Universal and International Exhibition, various Belgian cities exhibited.

The colourful ceiling of the booking hall, supported by stone arching, manifests a recurring wing and wheel theme, suggestive of the idea of railroad speed. Ceiling tracery radiates from a central octagon.

What is now the restaurant also has an ornately painted ceiling and a large clock, set within ornamental arching, has a multicoloured face it bearing the Latin motto: FUGIT IRREPARABILE TEMPUS (time flies and is lost).

The station eventually replaced two, existing stations, known as Little St. Peter's Station (Dutch: Klein Sint-Pietersstation ) and Ghent-South Station (Dutch: Station-Gent-Zuid ). The latter continued to operated until 1928. A railroad had passed the vicinity of Ghent as early as 1830.

The station is even today one of the busiest in Belgium. It is located at Koningin Maria Hendrikaplein, in Ghent. The station is maintained by the NMBS / SNCB railroad company.

I have spent hours at this station on several occasions over a number of years, and my overall impression is one of monumentality and even opulence, and an evident sense of rootedness in the past.

Note

(1) Architect Cloquet was also responsible for the Old Post Office building in Ghent and for the edifice of Ghent University's Rommelaere Institute. He worked on the contract for Gent-Sint-Pieters station from 1908.

Also worth seeing

In Ghent itself, popular sights include the belfry, the picturesque Graslei riverfront, St. Bavo's Cathedral, and the Gravensteen castle.

Bruges (Dutch: Brugge ; distance: 48 kilometres) also has numerous fine buildings, many of them Medieval, and is an extremely popular visitor destination.

...

How to get there: Brussels National Airport (Brussel -Nationaal -Luchthaven) , Belgium, where car hire is available, is the nearest large international airport to Ghent (distance: 67 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels National. The Belgian railroad company NMBS / SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Ghent. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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