Sunday, September 03, 2006

Paris Train Stations

Gare Saint Lazare

108, Rue Saint-Lazare; 75008. Chronologically the first Parisian railway station, it was first built (1837) a little further to the North, next to the Place d'Europe. Its main line was its link from Paris to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Rebuilt by Alfred Armand between 1841-1843, it was later extended by Eugène Flachat (1851-1853), notably through the addition of five metal structure covered halls, the largest having a span of 40 meters. Trains leaving here will take one to Normandy and to Great Britain, via Dieppe.

1. The station's exterior clock
2. Ticketing.
3. Eastern façade.

The present building (Juste Lisch, 1885-1889) surrounds the older structures and presents a XVIIth century Beaux-Arts style façade. A hotel -Terminus - is the first important example of an association between these two functions and, it was built to accommodate travellers coming to the Universal Exhibition of 1889.

The station was immortalized by Claude Monet in 1877 with his painting of the same name. In 1985, two works by Arman were added to La Cour du Havre and La Cour de Rome : L'Heure de tous (Everybody's Time) and Consigne à vie (Checked Luggage for a Lifetime) respectively.

Gare Montparnasse

The streets around this station still have the names of the places it serves such as Avenue du Maine and Rue de Rennes. One of oldest stations in Paris (1840), it was completely rebuilt after WWII. The earlier neo-classical building was hiding behind it a cast iron roof (Fauconnier) which collapsed a few month after completion. A new station, by architect Victor Lenoir, was built between 1848-1852.

On October 22 1895, a terrible accident brought the locomotive engine and the first coach out the window from the first floor, where the platforms were situated, into the street. The building had suffered several major transformations, up through the 1960's, when the whole area was reorganized and the Montparnasse Tower, together with the present station, were built. Trains towards Brittany and western France leave from here, including the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) Atlantique.

Three modern buildings (1969) arranged in "U"-shape surround the station : in the East wing, 1000 apartments ; to the West, the Air France Headquarters. The tracks have been recently completely covered by an impressive concrete structure bearing offices and gardens. The main hall is decorated by large op-art compositions signed by Vasarely. A small chapel, dedicated to Saint-Bernard (1969), accessible to all religions, has its lectern carved in a railroad tie.

Gare d'Austerlitz

Place Valhubert; 175013.  The name of Austerlitz recalls the famous battle won by Napoléon in Austria on the 2nd of December 1805, against Austro-Russian armies. It was originally conceived as a railway terminal for the Orléans Company, running its first line here starting with 1840. Consequent extensions took place in 1846 and 1852. Finally, the station as seen today was rebuilt by the architect Pierre-Louis Renaud (1865-1868). Trains depart from this station bound for the South-West of France, Spain and Portugal.
Austerlitz has never had the favours of the Parisians. The administration building screens the platforms and their XIXth century steel and glass roof from sight. Two allegorical statues in antique drapery, by Elias Robert, representing Agriculture and Industry (the one with the locomotive, of course), decorate the façade. The later arrival of the Métro line crosses the station at the same level as the main hall - ie one floor above ground level, and then spans over the Seine river, a few meters from there. The large interior dimensions (52 meters wide by 280 meters long) made it possible for the postal balloons to be built inside during the siege of Paris in 1870.

Gare du Nord

Place Napoléon III; 75010 .  The precursor to the Gare du Nord - the Belgiun railway platform - controlled by the Rothschild Group and inaugurated in 1846 (Léonce Reynaud, architecture - Bréville, engineering) was already inadequate by around 1854. This station soon proved to be too small for the increasing traffic, especially when Queen Victoria's visit had to be rerouted to Gare de l'Est.

In 1857, the decision was made to build a station three times larger, while the neighborhood was to be modernized. The previous structure was rebuilt at Lille. The new architectural team leader was the German born Jacques Ignace Hittorff and construction began in 1861. The new station was functional starting with 1864, but completed only in 1866. As its name indicates, from here one can go to Belgium, Holland, northern Germany, and the Scandinavian countries.Neoclassicism and XIXth century new metal structures meet in this building. The main elevation, in neo-Corinthian style, is decorated with 9 statues personifying the most important cities of France and Europe towards which the railway leaving the platforms would lead. Inside, two rows of Corinthian cast iron columns support the main glass roof covering a width of 72 meters at 38 meters high. Two side wings embrace the main building symmetrically. At ground level, a Doric colonnade has seen its elegance reduced by an awning at mid level added in 1891 and extended in 1930.
Other works by Jacques Ignace Hittorff : the 2 fountains on Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées garden design, the 12 buildings around the Arc de Triomphe at Place de l'Etoile.

Gare de L'Est

Place du 8 Mai 1945; 75010. The Gare de l'Est provides the only witness left from the first generation of railway buildings. The square in front of the station was occupied between the XIIIth and the XVIIIth century by the Saint-Laurent Fair or Carnival, mentioned by an inscription situated in the left wing corner pavilion. The original building, now the western wing, was built between 1847-1850 by François-Alexandre Duquesney with the help of the engineer Pierre Cabanel de Sermet, and served the line Paris-Strasbourg, functioning since 1844. Streets in the neighborhood still recall the origins of the first passengers : Boulevard de Strasbourg, Rue d'Alsace and so forth.

Its name was changed from Gare de Strasbourg to Gare de l'Est in 1854. The growing traffic brought several extensions, including the building of the present eastern wing, copied symmetrically on the original station between 1924-1931 by the engineer Bertaud. Today, trains leave from here for eastern France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The western wing, actually the original building, finds itself in axis with the Boulevard de Strasbourg, the main avenue leading to the center of Paris. The statues represent the cities of Strasbourg - by Philippe-Henri Lemaire, and, of Verdun - by Varenne (1930). This last artist is also the author of the decoration of the right clock, representing the rivers Marne and Meuse, while on the other side, the Seine and the Rhine were sculpted by Jean-Louis Brian.

Gare de Lyon

20, Boulevard Diderot, 75012. Built to replace the old landing stage of Lyon, the present building was built between 1895-1902 by the architect Marius Toudoire. Its construction was undertaken by the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseille) Company, and timed with the Universal Exhibition of 1900 in mind.

Recent modernization work allows the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) to serve this station. Departures for southern France, the Alps, Switzerland, Italy and Greece are from here.Marius Toudoire, helped by 30 artists, decorated the famous "Train bleu", the restaurant situated above the main entry and listed as an historic monument since 1972 for its "Belle Epoque" interior, left unchanged since the opening in 1901. About 40 paintings illustrate the cities served by the Company
Interior of Le Train Bleu (collage).

At ground level, Navigation, Steam, Electricity and the science of Mechanics are allegorically represented between the arcades by nudes glorifying technological progress. On the exterior, one cannot avoid noticing the characteristic square tower and its four clocks. Statues representing the cities of Paris and Marseille, together with low reliefs personifying Fishing and Hunting, decorate the main building.


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