It’s always busy at Amsterdam Central Station! There are groups of travellers dragging suitcases, commuters carrying take-away coffee, students touring Europe, businessmen heading for the airport, different sizes, ages, colours and language speakers…
In all the hustle and bustle, you might not notice how beautiful the terminal actually is: a palace with long, beautiful corridors leading to a gilded hall flanked by tall columns, and a hidden waiting room with heavy red curtains for the king when he travels by train.
This station looks like it was built in the Middle Ages, long before there were trains at all, as a royal palace in the harbour. But actually, it’s not. Central Station was built in the 19th century, less than 150 years ago on an island created in the river that led to the sea. If it had been up to some people, however, it would never even have existed.
Amsterdam’s merchants hated the idea of a building blocking their way as they sailed from the harbour to their canal houses and warehouses. If a stop for the trains had to be built, they said, why not somewhere else? Around 1880, the builders of the station and merchants in the city argued for months whether Central Station would be built at all, or whether in that location. How about an underwater station, it was even suggested, or one built on a mighty bridge over the harbour? In the end, the builders got their way… but not without promising that, from then on, the merchants’ goods would be carried by train. And they themselves would have luxurious seats in plush carriages from which they would find new places to trade. Above all, they were assured that the new station would be the world’s most beautiful place to arrive at and depart from. It would resemble a palace and make Amsterdam proud. If you walk from the north to the south, from the river ’t IJ to the city centre, you have to admit that they kept their word. Central Station is a palace, a train palace. But wait – how about the merchants, and their ships? Where are they now? They are nowhere to be found on the water.
That’s true – but if you pass through the bike tunnel next to the station, and look left and right, you’ll discover them painted on the tiled walls in blue paint that fades as you move through. This mural was made as a tribute to the mighty trade in the harbour. And maybe even to make up for the fight with the builders. Central Station and its surroundings remain a historic place. A great starting point for your tour through town.