Norte Station (Valencia)
Valencia, like so many other Spanish cities was surrounded by a wall for security from the 11th century and it would not be until 1847 when this city began to hear the first mention about the introduction of a future railway, its implementation being difficult due to this intramural location
Before we begin to take delight in the station of Valencia Norte as we know it today, it is essential to talk about its predecessor, (also called the Norte station), a superficial and functional station in the centre of Valencia which mainly came into being due to the enormous communication problems existing between the city of Valencia and the port area of Grao.
Almansa line to Valencia and Tarragona
The first Project for this line was drafted in 1847 by the engineers Beatty and Shepherd, who belonged to the British owned Sociedad de los Ferrocarriles de Madrid Valencia (Madrid Valencia Railway Company), the concessionaire for the whole work, including the station buildings, until the Marquis de Campo bought the rights to the railway line in 1850 from Mar a Xátiva and formed the Sociedad de Ferrocarriles del Grao a Játiva (Grao – Játiva Railway Company) two years later, the first railway in the Valencia region.
It was after this year that the city on the Turia experienced the first far reaching urban development modifications, which would conclude with the urban and industrial expansion that would inexorably lead to the port in a short time.
Given the great distance that separated the port from the metropolis, a single station inside the walled area of Valencia (precisely where there is a square today opposite the Town Hall) proved insufficient, and to facilitate public connection to the line, initial plans included building a station at Grao, since to reach the quay, passengers and freight drivers (carriages pulled by animals in those days) were obliged to alight from the railway and use their own means of transport at the time to conclude their journey to Grao or the port.
This would probably have made the transport of freight even worse, since the public undoubtedly considered transport by these means and not by railway, given the relative distance that separated the city from the port and the great commercial activity it generated. It was therefore vital to locate the platform in the city and to build the Valencia to Grao railway line.
This, according to some written pieces and publications in the press at the time, represented a great threat to traders and transport operators who worked this route since they saw the imminent ruin of their business with the arrival of the railway. There were in fact several boycotts and altercations in the line construction process to prevent the work from progressing, but the start of this new means of transport did not in the end prevent the continuity of the others, as a result of criteria relating purely to logistics, rationalisation and market demand.
Another problem derived from the actual intramural location of the old Valencia Norte station was precisely related to opening the wall to allow trains to pass. The latter was usually controlled by the army, who often offered great resistance to its fracture. This did not happen and a part of the wall located between the Ruzafa and San Vicente gates was knocked down without any great problems, the gap being closed with a thick wooden gate. This situation remained until the famous governor Cirilo Amorós ordered the walls to be knocked down in 1865, a wide avenue being left in its place that took the name in this part of the city of calle Játiva, which would be the siting of the current Norte Station in Valencia that we will deal with from now on.
The inexorable growth of industry and the proletariat who settled along the flanks of the line required expansion that would also have an influence on urban development aspects. In light of the difficulties faced by the Campo company, it proposed the merger of both lines to MZA at the end of 1859, a merger that MZA rejected, arguing the company’s insufficient infrastructure and the great cost of its improvement.
This did not put off Campo, who founded the Sociedad de los Ferrocarriles de Almansa Tarragona (Almansa Valencia Tarragona (AVT) railway company, the Barcelona to Valencia line entering into operation in 1868. The old Valencia station was finally built, assuming its insufficient size and with the perspective of a future enlargement. Its design clearly appreciated the Victorian taste present at British stations, where functionality and economy of design were the most dependent variables at the time to achieve an architecture that was above all useful.
What really became noticeable, however, and something that was beginning to sink in, was the fact that a station was becoming increasingly crowded due to its limited spaces and dimensions that prevented a high quality, competitive service.
New location study for the present Norte Station
After quite a few studies and even lawsuits caused by the expropriation proposals for the new station location, there was finally a favourable sentence for the A.V.T company, something that placed it in an advantageous situation with a view to its expansion plans, but very much against the inhabitants of the old town of Ruzafa and the similarly affected bullring that, whilst still affected, was to be respected due to its special nature.
Other problems that made a new location necessary were the interference that railway traffic caused to movement along calle Játiva due to the incessant cutting off of roads and the great danger it involved for pedestrians who were permanently crossing the tracks, with quite a few accidents being recorded, many of them resulting in death.
Various steps toward a move were in the meantime denoted by two major events:
The death of the Marquis de Campo and the annexation of all lines belonging to the A.V.T by the Compañía del Norte (Northern Company) in 1891. Powers in this city were blocked and their chances for urban development and expansion would lie with the Ministry for Public Works in Madrid.
There were various siting proposals, the engineer Vicente Sala proposed moving the station some 800 metres to the south-west, this being a reasonable option since the location was sufficiently far away so as not to be absorbed by the city in the medium term. This caused divisions and demonstrations in the city, even in front of the actual minister, and it was decided to send back the project for a further location study.
Due to the fact that the main source of discontent amongst opponents was that they considered the new location to be quite a long way from the city, an intermediate solution by the engineer Javier Sanz was chosen in 1904, a solution that would avoid passing calle Játiva since the station would be situated outside the walls of this street, giving it a façade but at the other side of the street. This solution would officially and effectively come into being by the Royal Order of 15 May1905.
The new space that the old station would leave following its demolition would be the new Emilio Cautelar Square, a centre of considerable speculation springing up around it under the shadow of the Town Hall and the Bank of Spain, taking advantage of new spaces that would mainly be set aside for administrative and commercial uses, a new central heart thereby being founded for the city.
New Norte station, start of work
Before starting the work, the organisation of the station into two different, independent uses had already been established in the project, one allocated to freight trains and the other to passenger trains, which would in turn be organised into long distance and commuter trains. When the work began on the new station, the city of Valencia was certainly experiencing a positive economic situation and great commercial and industrial expansion, something that would also be reflected in the actual Compañía del Norte, which already possessed 3,670 km of track in 1900 distributed throughout the peninsula, and it was no wonder that Valencia was able to hold two such important events as the Regional Exhibition of 1909 and the National one in 1910. The initiative to build the station was therefore optimal for individual developers, even allowing them to take pleasure in very intellectual and artistic aspects, and taking advantage of all the burgeoning industrial and technological advances, including steel, which unlike iron allowed greater light and gracefulness, retaining the manufacturing rigidity and functionality already evident.
It should be mentioned as an anecdote that while the new station was being built, trains would continue until terminating at the old station, with the peculiarity that due to the location of the new station on the same direction axis as that marked out by the line, trains passed the main facade of the terminal through two of its gateways on the right, meaning it would be the first station known to have already received trains before it came into being, even though they passed straight by without stopping.
The new project received its first proposal in August 1906, due to the collaboration between Sanz and the young architect Demetrio Ribes Marco, who had been trained at the Company in various projects at the Príncipe Pío station in Madrid (we also have Demetrio to thank for the Renfe office buildings project in Paseo del Rey).
The new Norte station would see the start of his work on 2 August 1907 and it would go on for another ten years.
It would have 15.476 m² as against barely five thousand in the old station, stressing the basic premise of the large, sumptuous passenger building with the main facade in the calle de Játiva. Its delicate geometric forms show the underlying effort to ensure that all objects forming the area of human activity were works of art. The engineer Enrique Grasset was responsible for the design of the cover or cantilever roof in May 1907, a great single metal structure on minimal supports.
With a height of 24.5 metres and a 45 metre span, the cantilever roof would be raised with respect to the side wings to include a strip of large electronically worked windows, the aim of which was to improve ventilation and to reduce the effects of steam from the locomotives that entered on its six available tracks, since it facilitated the entry of a great mass of easily renewable air.
Curiously, the roof structure was supplied by a renowned Madrid company, owned by the brother of Grasset and it was transferred to Valencia in parts and mounted by means of a travelling bridge along the track, over which a powerful crane was situated to raise and insert in its place the various parts that would complete it. This was a considerable source of pride for the people of Valencia, since it was a great station whose dimensions exceeded those of major European capitals such as Paris, Berlin o Vienna.
A STATION THAT BRINGS TOGETHER ALL ARTS
Its initial proposals stemmed from manifestos of the movement Arts and Crafts"the whole human environment, a work of art" ...representing an architectural area in which ornamentation, furniture and volume inflexions form an indivisible whole. This premise would even lead to the integration of furniture and elements into fixed architecture, by participating in a unitary design representative of the city and in which decorative Valencia motifs would predominate on handrails, handles, stained glass windows or even on the crenellated finishes reproduced by the very crowns rounding off the marble on the facades of the market.
The fact is that Demetrio Ribes largely managed to reflect the image and personality of the city, as well the features of the country, using independent and singular decorative elements characteristic of modernism, and amongst which it is worth stressing those produced in ceramics, of special significance in the region for their beauty and high degree of perfection. Mention has to be made of the bronze clock that was originally surrounded by the inevitable Northern Railways legend –disappeared along with the company– although the same thing did not occur with another symbol: the five point star. And its top, a world under an eagle, it was the image of speed.
With respect to opening the station, the climate at the time was gradually changing. The 1914 war, which ending up reducing imports of railway rolling stock, the economic situation that imposed considerable price increases on rail services due to the reduction in profits, this being interconnected at the same time with strikes until the end of 1917, and concluding with the nationalisation of company stock. The climate that reigned during the opening of the Norte Station in Valencia, which took place on 8 August 1917, meant it was opened without any great celebrations
Valencia station is in conclusion one of the best buildings in our civil architecture and is a monumental and representative reference point for the city. Its style is attached to the modernist movement, within the so called "Vienna Secession" school, but it is the peculiar way in which Ribes interprets the style that gives it such outstanding singularity. The exuberant decoration of its concourse, with a very detailed design of the ticket offices and wooden chair rails, with mosaic inlaid work and ceramic decoration and abundance of the trencadis technique, broken up tiles to cover walls and ceilings and forming a unit of great beauty.
The guidelines governing its functioning today tend to maintain a well conceived balance between functionality and maintenance of the building’s intrinsic values, still operating today and offering great quality and efficiency for more than 40,000 users a day. It was the first to receive the classification of historic-artistic monument in 1983.
The result is as Demetrio envisaged...
...a beautiful station, functionally and effectively prepared for more than a century and greatly admired by the tourism it receives.
FICHA TÉCNICA ESTACIÓN DE VALENCIA NORD
Noviembre de 2007
En esta edición han participado Adif, a través de su Dirección de Patrimonio y Urbanismo, Dirección Ejecutiva de Estaciones de Viajeros y la Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles.