The gares of Paris

Most train stations around the world have little or no character and are just constructions that we go through without noticing the outside, mainly because there is nothing to notice. However, that’s not the case in Paris. The train stations in Paris are mostly beautiful architectonic constructions with plenty of history behind them.

One of the first things people notice about Paris is how beautiful the buildings are. Architecture is one of Paris’ main attractions and no matter where people look,  the buildings either side of the boulevards, the monuments, the churches and even the metro entrances have beautiful decoration reminiscent of the Belle Epoque. Visitors can’t help but feel they are witnessing extreme beauty in a way they never have before. Very few cities in Europe, if any at all, can rival Paris for its scenic beauty.

However, an unsuspected part of this beauty is in its train stations, what the French call gares. Most train stations in Europe are either contemporary state-of-the-art constructions with little historical value or nondescript buildings that have nothing about them. But that’s not the case of Paris.

Gare du Nord is Paris’ busiest train station located, as its name indicates, in the north part of the city. However, the first thing that really strikes us is its façade. Inaugurated in 1846, this train station has twenty sculptures on its façade, each representing a city trains whisk people to, including foreign cities.The original façade of the building was transferred to Lille for its train station and replaced in 1861 by the architect Jacques Ignace Hitorff, who designed the one we see today.

Gare de Lyon was built in 1849 and re-built in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition. It’s located in the southeast part of the city. The first thing people notice when arriving to the station is the clock tower reigning over the art nouveau style station. In style, it’s similar to Big Ben in London. However, an important feature of this train station is that it houses a restaurant, Le Train Bleu, which has been open since 1901. Its rooms seem straight out of Versailles, with big chandeliers falling form the ceiling and the walls are covered in frescos and golden sculptures and figures.

Gare Saint-Lazare is probably the most represented train station in France when it comes to the world of art. Inaugurated in 1837, it has been the focus of many paintings by artists such as Manet, Caillebote and Monet, the latter dedicating no less than eleven of his paintings to this train station. Such was the artistic inspiration of this train station to artists that the Musée d’Orsay and the National Gallery in Washington hosted an exhibition called ‘Monet, Manet and the Gare Saint-Lazare’. It’s also the setting for the famous photograph by Henri Bresson ‘Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare’.

Gare d’Orsay was a train station in use until 1939. After many years of uncertainty, in 1986 it was finally transformed into the Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’ most famous art museums. Its clock on the glass windows and its hall have become iconic images that now represent this emblematic location.

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