Train stations. A passage. People come, people go. I never liked train stations when I was a kid. Crowded places, random faces, pickpockets, always gusty, too windy in winter, too sticky in summer, these huge halls used to make me feel uncomfortable.
I started to rush through them when we moved to Paris. The Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare Montparnasse, Gare d’Austerlitz, Gare Saint-Lazare and Gare du Nord: all of them packed in a grandiose and highly decorated 19th century facade. Splendid! Except that we always hurried through a metro entrance inside the train stations. Not a glimpse at the architecture. Both the interest and curiosity were existent, but I never took the time to pay attention to the details. Train stations: nothing more than a passage…
And then, last month, we traveled from Atocha station in Madrid to Toledo. With its 4000 square meter tropical garden in the concourse, the Atocha station certainly emanates serenity and coolness. But it didn’t fascinate me as much as the little train station in Toledo.
I dozed off as soon as the train left Madrid. When I awoke, miles and miles of green and ochre lands glided before my eyes. The train slowed down, as if it wanted to accommodate with my state of mind. Kerstin gave me a gentle smile. We were approaching Toledo.
The entrance to a place always matters to me. It’s the first thing you see. The first space that welcomes you into a whole new universe. To infinite expectations of an area you’re so eager to explore. When the train’s doors opened, we were greeted by a warm and gentle breeze. And there it stood: the marvelous Neo-Mudéjar monument. A brilliant gate and introduction to Toledo, the “City of the Three Cultures”.
Inaugurated on 24 April 1919, the Toledo station was built by Narciso Clavería y Palacios to replace the 1858 construction. It might seem natural today that the architect chose a style that echoes the Mudéjar architecture of the city. But back in 1919, this decision caused a great deal of controversy and polemic. Most train stations then had a sober, functional, and industrial design. Why build a new railway station with such details? People wondered. And why add a clock tower that looks like a minaret?
Perhaps it was the sun shimmering through the stained glasses that made me pause in the passenger hall. But I just couldn’t take my eyes off the polylobate horseshoe-shaped arches, which extend the five highly ornamented doorways in the central pavilion. I was awestruck.
Fighting off the feeling that there was a whole city waiting to be explored, we nevertheless took the time to gaze at the architectural details. The old ticket office in dark wood, with its three booths separated by ornamental wrought iron railings, created by the master smith Julio Pascual, took us back in time. Whereas the colorful mosaic tiles, and the coffered ceilings, designed by the Toledan ceramist Angel Pedroza, are elements that one would normally expect to see in a royal palace or a museum.
The sunlight invited us to walk out, and all the other passengers were already gone, leaving the two of us in the now empty vestibule. But each and every feature of this little train station was begging to be marveled at and treasured. And then, there was no rush. For once.