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Visiting the oldest railroad station in Belgium: a sedate structure in Tienen, dating from 1841
Neo-Classical real estate a constant, if not its name
This building is the oldest exisiting railroad station in Belgium, dating from 1842. Belgium was the first European country, after England, to be indstrialized, and, when one considers that Belgium as an independent country dates only since 1830, the early date of this railroad facility is significant (1).
Features include a multiplicity of Syrian arches and clean, Classical lines (which, however, do not include the pediment often associated with neo-Classical structures). This elongated building evidenes a strong sense of symmetricality.
The name of the architect for this 1841 building at Tienen has been lost, but it is thought that, given some similarities to the design of a station building at Leuven, the same architect may have been responsible for both structures.
Interestingly, in the past and in some foreign literature about Belgium, the town of Tienen would formerly have been referred to as 'Tirlemont'.
("Well, fine; places change their names sometimes...")
Except that the form 'Tirlemont' has long existed, but for today what is essential in the eyes of Belgian officialdom is that 'Tirlemont' is a form used in French, and since the town does not have large proportion of French-speakers, then Tienen, the Dutch form, must be used in official contexts. (The fact that the language boundary between the Dutch-speaking Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest) and the French-speaking Walloon regions (French: Région wallonne) is only a few kilometres south of the town, is deemed to be officially irrelevant.
("But surely don't some people speak French in Brabant?")
Well, this is true historically. But in the 20th century the mainly French-speaking part of Brabant — together with Brussels (Dutch: Brussel; French: Bruxelles) were detatched from the mainly Dutch-speaking part of Brabant, and now Flemish Brabant (Dutch: Vlaams-Brabant) and Walloon Brabant (French: Brabant wallon) are separate provinces within their respective regions, while bilingual Brussels is now known as the Brussels Capital Region (Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest; French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale). Tienen is thus situated in the province of Flemish Brabant: firmly within — if near the edge of — the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium (2).
So this building in Tienen is of interest to railroad buffs and historians...but make sure that you do not call it 'Tirlemont' station, if you are in the Flemish region!
January 21, 2014
(1) There had already been a railroad service operating between Tienen and Mechelen since 1837.
(2) The various, official language régimes in place in Belgium have been fully calculated right down to the last square metre of the country's territory.
Also worth seeing
In Tienen itself, the Town Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis) is a striking, Neo-Classical building, the main elevation of which, by K. L. Drossart, dates from 1836/37.; a museum exists in the town dedicated to the history and production of sugar, a local industry; there are various examples of fine, ecclesiastical architecture.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Tienen : .. kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS maintains a service from Brussels to Tienen. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Travellers are advised to check with the airline or their travel agent for up to date information. It is also advisable 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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