The Gare du Nord: An Homage to Europe’s Train Busiest Station

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The Gare du Nord: An Homage to Europe’s Train Busiest Station
Few visitors to Paris will be unaware of the Gare du Nord. If you’re arriving by Eurostar, this train station will be your first introduction to Paris. Located in the north of the city as its name implies, the Gare du Nord, situated in the 10th arrondissement, is not far from Montmartre but within easy commuting distance to the Left Bank. In December 1967, I flew into Paris for the first time to be an au pair. Three weeks later, on Christmas Eve, I left Paris via the Gare du Nord and the boat train to London Victoria and thence on to my home in the north of England. The au pair job had been a disaster, but I had found another and was crossing everything that this one would work after the family returned from their Christmas break in Périgueux. I can’t say that the Gare du Nord had left much of an impact on me. Victorian stations were almost all universally beautiful; Newcastle Central Station, with its domed glass roof and wrought-iron walkways, was no exception. The famous facade of Gare du Nord around 1900. Public domain Returning to Paris was a different story. I stood on the platform and breathed in that inimitable smell of a Parisian train station. Cigarette smoke, coffee, diesel and something else which was indefinable, but somehow the essence of Paris… It brought tears to my eyes. I was home again. The Gare du Nord was to affect me in the same way each and every time over the next year and a half. I was either leaving Paris, or returning, and the Gare du Nord was always my first and last witness. The Gare du Nord has been smoke-free since 2007, but in the intervening years from 1846, I imagine it would have smelt pretty much the same as when I first stood on its platform. First officially opened in 1846 for the Chemins de Fer du Nord, the station has a fascinating and checkered history which continues to this day. Controversy was never far away from its tracks. As with so many of these new railway stations in an age of unimagined innovation, the popularity of train travel was instant and soon resulted in the stations becoming too small for demand, the tracks insufficient in number to cope for the large numbers of passengers who had embraced trains and all they had to offer with unabated enthusiasm. Less than 20 years later, in 1860, the station was partly demolished to enable a larger station to be built. With great foresight, and an instinct for heritage sadly lacking sometimes in later years, the facade of the station was transferred to Lille station where it still remains to this day. Postcard depicting a train departing from the Gare du Nord before the First World War. Public domain
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Lead photo credit : The monumental facade of the Gare du Nord. Photo credit: Velvet / Wikimedia commons

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.

Comments

  • Ed Cobleigh
    2022-09-05 06:18:42
    Ed Cobleigh
    Le Gare du Nord, along with the other Parisian train stations, is the reason Paris itself was spared, mostly, from Allied bombing during WWII. Why? None of the stations were connected with each other by rail. All traffic, goods and people, had to disembark and travel across Paris to access another rail link. You can't travel by rail from Le Gare du Nord to Le Gare de Lyon. This prevents Paris from being a rail hub. When the Allies were preparing for the cross-channel landings, they prevented German re-enforcements from traveling to the front by hitting rail links. Paris, not a hub, was not worth bombing! Parisians rankle at the thought, but this saved the city. CDG took credit for saving Paris, but the real reason was much more pedestrian, literally.

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    •  Marilyn Brouwer
      2022-09-08 02:02:46
      Marilyn Brouwer
      Thankyou Ed for more fascinating facts. What a great addition to my article. What a terrible loss to Paris if the train stations with all their histories had been bombed.

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