Visiting the spectacularly placed railroad station at Foix, France: remembering Charles de Freycinet and his Plan

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Train entering Foix station under snow
Train entering Foix station under snow | Source
Foix station (Ariège, Pyrenees), interior view seen from its platforms and canopy.
Foix station (Ariège, Pyrenees), interior view seen from its platforms and canopy. | Source
Charles de Freycinet 1828-1923
Charles de Freycinet 1828-1923 | Source
Map location of Ariège, France
Map location of Ariège, France | Source

Multiple, historical considerations, too

This railroad station at Foix, in the department of Ariège, must be among France's most spectacularly placed ones.

As I emerged from a train there, I was struck both by the cool and pure Pyrenean mountain air, and by the breathtaking scene before me: a Medieval château on a hill and the mist covered Pyrenees beyond. A most memorable scene, indeed.

A railroad station at Foix was first built in 1862. Various of the stations in Ariège were given large, glass canopies in the early 20th century. The station at Foix was originally built for the railroad company known as la Compagnie du Midi, (i.e., Company of the South) but for many decades it has been part of the nationalized SNCF (1).

Interestingly, a Foix-born French public figure was responsible for the great expansion of the railroad in late 19th and early 20th century France. Government minister and subsequent Prime Minister Charles de Freycinet (1828-1923)(2) was the author of a plan, known as le plan Freycinet, which envisaged the development of France's railroad network and ports. This massive program of works proved to be colossally expensive but by 1914 its aim of extending the railroad to every sous-préfecture (3) in the country had been largely realized.

Significantly, as well as enhancing transportation and material progress in France, the Freycinet Plan had a less overt, but discernible, political aim, also. Charles de Freycinet was a colleague of Republican leader Léon Gambetta (despite the strongly ideological tradition, French politics has traditionally functioned around groupingsof prominent people rather than through strong party organizations). Consequently, an ideological aim of these and other secularist and Republican leaders was to extend the influence of the Third Republic to the more rural departments of France.

But, before the Republic gets all the credit, we can just remember that in 1862, when the railroad originally came to Foix, was well within the Second Empire period!

April 26, 2013

Notes

(1) Société nationale des chemins de fer français.

(2) Charles Freycinet served, among his rôles, as Minister of Public Works, during which he published his far-reaching Plan in 1878, and Prime Minister.

(3) A town with government administration, of which each department has several, under a departmental headquarters known as a préfcture.

Also worth seeing

In Foix itself, sights include the Medieval château of the former Counts of Foix and Co-Princes of Andorra and the Medieval Abbey of Saint-Volusien.

Toulouse , France, (distance: 86 kilometres); this regional centre for the south-west of France has numerous cultural and historical and cultural sights, including the Capitole and the Saint-Sernin Basilica.

...

How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ) (Paris-Foix road distance: 764 kilometres), from where there are also air links to Toulouse. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Foix. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport to Carcassone (Aéroport de Carcassonne ), from where car rental is available. 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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