A history of the development of the Gare du Midi district

Since the creation of Belgium in 1830, the Gare du Midi has taken three different forms and had three locations, a little further out from the city centre each time. These successive relocations have had a considerable impact on the urban development of the districts in the south of Brussels. The station area in its present form has been shaped by the arrival of the high-speed train in 1994.

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1840: Gare des Bogards: a station within the city walls

The first station on the Brussels-Mons line, the Gare des Bogards, was built in 1840 in the city centre, 400 metres from the Grand-Place. Located on the site of a former monastery, the Convent des Bogards, where Place Rouppe stands today, the station had six platforms. It was the terminus station for trains from Mons, Charleroi and La Louvière, and was quickly outgrown.

Industrial development in the nineteenth century led to the decision to push the station out of the centre of Brussels. Its demolition in 1864 provided an opportunity to clean up the local area, which had suffered regular flooding by Senne, and to create a majestic avenue on the line of the disused tracks: the Drève du Midi, now called the Avenue de Stalingrad(1)

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1864: the station outside the walls and the creation of the Midi district

The station was moved out of the city centre onto undeveloped land in the municipality of Saint-Gilles. It remained a terminus.

Designed by architect Auguste Payen, the second Gare du Midi was eclectic and monumental in style. It now played an effective role as a gateway to the city. It had been fully integrated into the urban fabric, and could be seen from the Drève du Midi, now Avenue de Stalingrad. Its portico jutted forward, enabling it to be seen from either end of Rue de l’Argonne. Opposite the station, a huge square was created, the Place de la Constitution, serving as both a station approach and an entrance to the city. This station approach was flanked by two triangular blocks of housing and shops that still exist today.

Moving the station entailed a radical urban transformation, in line with an overall development plan overseen by the Inspector of Highways, Victor Besme (Plan général pour l’Extension et l’Embellissement de l’Agglomération Bruxelloise, 1862).

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1952: a through station on the Nord-Midi link

In the early 20th century, Brussels thus had two rail terminals: Gare du Midi and Gare du Nord. The increase in rail traffic and the desire to serve the centre of Brussels more effectively gave rise to the idea of a rail link between the two stations. Work on the Nord-Midi link began in 1911 and was not completed until 1952, having been interrupted during each of the two world wars. 

Following a competition launched by the Belgian National Railway Company (SNCB-NMBS) in July 1936(2), the architects Yvan Petit and Fernand Blomme designed a new Gare du Midi which was now a through station, not a terminal. Auguste Payen’s station was demolished in 1947 and replaced in 1952 by a new station of functionalist design, set 150 metres back compared with the previous station. The new building in yellow Fauquemberg brick had a clock tower.

Work on the Junction led to the station being reorganised. The tracks were raised 6 metres and extended into the city centre on a viaduct, with shops under it and a covered street, the Rue Couverte (formerly Rue de l'Argonne) along which the trams ran. The station approach ceased to exist. The arrangement of streets around the station was disrupted by the creation of the Nord-Midi link. The station was no longer particularly noticeable. Its two sides were oriented east and west, on either side of the railway viaduct.

As the urban planners Jean de Salle and Christian Frisque write, ‘The station building no longer stood out from the general rail infrastructure: only a clock tower marked the entrance hall on the Rue de France side. The station was no longer visible either from the suburbs or from the city, and ceased to demonstrate the proximity and continuity between the two zones. Rather, it was the continuity of the rail network that had taken priority, without regard to the distinction between city and suburb marked by the belt of boulevards it straddled: thus there was loss of continuity and loss of the distinction between city and suburb.’(3)

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1994: the international station

In 1994, the Brussels Region assumed its place at the centre of a Northern European high-speed rail network. The Gare du Midi welcomed the TGV Nord (PBKA: Paris-Brussels-Köln-Amsterdam) and the Eurostar terminal. The station was extensively converted to take on this international role, with the creation of a secure area, the demolition of the clock tower, and so on. A process of urban development operation was then launched to take full advantage of the ‘TGV effect’ and regenerate the area. This operation was accompanied by a ‘scheme for the development of the area around the Gare du Midi’ defined for the Region by the urban planners Jean de Salle and Christian Frisque.

 


(1) MEYFROID C. Étude: La gare du Midi à Bruxelles (1840-1952). Un enjeu urbanistique et économique, 2004, 18p.

(2) MEYFROID C. Étude: La gare du Midi à Bruxelles (1840-1952) Un enjeu urbanistique et économique, 2004, 18 p.

(3) DE SALLE J., FRISQUE Ch. on behalf of the Brussels Regional Public Service. Schéma de développement des abords de la gare du Midi – Phase 2, p.21.