Visiting Herstal railroad station, Belgium: with an ornate frontage dating from 1913

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Railway frontage detail, Herstal
Railway frontage detail, Herstal | Source
Railway frontage detail, Herstal
Railway frontage detail, Herstal | Source
Arms of the Duchy of Brabant
Arms of the Duchy of Brabant | Source

A suggestion of grace recalling a past era

This building, the railroad station of Herstal (French: gare de Herstal) is situated in Liège province, in Belgium's Walloon region (French: Région wallonne).

Dating from 1913, features include an elongated frontage with ornate gables. It is executed in red brick, a familiar material widely used in railroad station buildings of the period, and one which is especially popular in Belgium, plus an admixture of yellow brick. (Brick manufacturing has been a major industry in the country.) There is repeated Syrian arching at its principal windows. This, with a Classical-looking pediment — here in a variety known as a circular pediment — combine to give the building a slight ecclesiastical sense, somewhat suggesting 17th century Counter-Reformation Baroque. It is almost as if one were back in Antwerp 400 years ago, rather than at a facility revolving around the then fairly modern invention of the railroad locomotive.

Below the pediment is a bas-relief of the Belgian national arms, depicting the rapant lion known as Leo Belgicus (1).

The structure replaced a previous station building dating from 1865.

Originally sponsored by the former Liège-Limburg Railroad Company (French: Compaignie du chemin de fer liégeois-limbourgeois), it is now owned by the national Belgian railroad company SNCB (1). Interestingly, the building bears — in French and Dutch — the former name of the company out of which SNCB emerged: CHEMINS DE FER DE L'ETAT / STAATSSPOORWEG (State Railroad)

Economies and use rationalization have resulted in this structure not having had many resources spent on it in recent years. But I think there is something of a pre-World War One grace about the building. After that cataclysmic series of events with far-reaching consequences — which affected Belgium as much as any other country involved — it seems that the authorities were prepared to sponsor functional public buildings, but not to spend extra funds to make them aesthetically pleasing in their historical and stylistic characteristics. (Or to sum it up in North American English: "Functionalism rules okay".)

The structure is at the aptly named rue de la Station, Herstal.

Herstal is best known by Belgians as the location of FN Herstal arms factory (3), with 3000 employees, founded in the 19th century, and which continues to be one of Belgium's major exporters.

November 18, 2013

Notes

(1) Long before an independent Kingdom of Belgium existed (from 1830), a lion symbolized the historically important Duchy of Brabant; this symbol in time came to represent the country as a whole. Various of the Belgian provinces have also adopted versions of the lion symbol of Brabant in their own arms.

(2) SNCB: Société nationale des chemins de fer belges.

(3) FNA: Fabrique nationale d'Herstal.

Map location of Herstal, Liège province
Map location of Herstal, Liège province | Source

Also worth seeing

In Liège (distance: 5.8 kilometres) visitor attractions include: the Perron, very much a local symbol; the Bueren Mountain; the Zénobe Gramme Monument close to the Fragnée Bridge; the Fine Arts Palace (French: Palais des Beaux-Arts); the equestrian statue of Charlemagne; the Cointe Basilica and other, fine ecclesiastical architecture, some of it dating from the Middle Ages, including the Cathedral; and many others.

Maastricht (The Netherlands) distance: 28 kilometres) is an old city with striking church architecture and evocative, historical links.

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Herstal: 98 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service from Brussels to Herstal. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to 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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