I like railway stations, because they hold the promise of travel to places far and near. And because they are often architectural masterpieces in their own right. But what happens when these stations are no longer needed by the railway companies? Do they fall into decline, or do they find another use? During my recent visit to Spain I went to two historic Madrid stations: one still very much alive, the other more ghostly…
Madrid Atocha Station: a Tropical Garden
My first stop was at Madrid Atocha Station. Atocha itself is still a busy terminal, serving the Metro and the cities of southern Spain. But I was more interested in the original building, which is now disused. Built in 1851, it was partly destroyed by fire and then renovated in the wrought iron renewal style, with a tall glass and steel roof. One of the architects was Gustave Eiffel (of Tower fame).
A new terminal was built in 1992, and the original building was taken out of use. But it sprang back to life as a concourse with shops and cafés and, more remarkably, a tropical garden. Today the area is full of tall palms and hundreds of other plants. There is even a small lake with goldfish and lots of turtles.
When I visited, the whole place was buzzing with people, eating in the café or watching the turtles. Some people with suitcases were sitting on a bench between the plants, obviously taking some time out before catching a train. They looked unusually relaxed for people on a journey!
The Ghost Station of Chamberí
For something completely different I went to the Chamberí Metro Station. This is an old underground station on the “blue” line, opened in 1919 and closed in 1966. It reopened in 2008 as a museum called Andén 0 (Platform Zero), with the station preserved just as it would have been in 1919. (Look at the website for access and opening times.)
Initially I tagged on to the end of a guided tour. However, I struggled to understand the Spanish, so I left the group and wandered around on my own, taking pictures of the station with its tiled walls. It was a strange experience, being in a deserted station with its vintage advertisements, and the original signage and metro map. I even passed the old ticket office on the way out.
Although the station is closed, the line that passes through it is still running. There is a glass screen between the platform and the track, separating the visitors from the passing trains. As I took my photos I was startled by a loud roar, followed by the lights of an approaching train. It whizzed past, the faces of the passengers turned curiously towards the tourists on the platform. Was it they who were the ghosts, or was it us?