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Like most cities, Amsterdam has a point where everyone arrives and departs from the city. It is here at Amsterdam Centraal station.
From here, you can take the underground, or trains that take you to places either in or out of the country, buses, trams and even the ferry that crosses to the other side of the River IJ.
The station is one of the city’s nerve centres and you cannot stop for a single minute in its walkways without being asked about something, swept out of the way, greeted or confused for somebody else. So many people use the station’s platforms and walkways that when you arrive, you get the feeling you are in an enormous metropolis and not the small, peaceful Dutch capital. “So many people” means around a hundred and fifty thousand people a day, according to official data.
As well as being extremely practical, the Central Station building also has a lot of history, and is worth a visit for its architectural design and surroundings.
The Amsterdam Centraal building was designed in 1882 by the architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the city’s famous Rijksmuseum, the style of which is very similar to the station. After seven years of construction, it was opened in 1889.
The dimensions of the building are striking. Just take a look at its 300-metre long facade. The building comprises a central nave, which has two square towers and is flanked by two wings. Cuypers completed the station in his own very personal Dutch Renaissance style and finished it with some Gothic touches and a great steel vault.
The building is built on three great artificial islands and nearly 8,700 wooden posts, which were sunk into the surrounding sandy waters.
Of course, when there is building work, everybody argues, and the construction of the Central Station, and particularly its size, were no exception.
When the project was commissioned, great controversy arose about where the station should be located and even today there are still detractors of the site, in the north of the city, where it was eventually built.
One proposal made at the time was that it should be located close to the Leidseplein. This conflicted with the ideas of those who favoured the creation of a line that skirted the south of the city, which was then at the height of its growth.
A third group favoured siting the station on the River IJ. The town council, however, unanimously ruled against this location. Strange though it may seem, the official state engineering office, which favoured the IJ site, convinced the government to apply pressure in favour of this site and got its way.
The decision to build the station on the IJ was very controversial, and many experts branded the plan as catastrophic as it made Amsterdam an inland city for all purposes and cut it of from its own waterfront.
With the station facing the Damrak the effect achieved was nevertheless of a centrifugally-arranged city that looks upon itself.
So when you arrive in Amsterdam and leave the Central Station, you therefore the feeling that you are face-to-face with the city, which is welcoming you with open arms.
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