Rail operations at Canfranc International Railway Station have been forgotten for nearly fifty years. The station, situated in Aragon near France and the Pyrenees, was a symbol of trade, luxury, and modernity until a 1970 freight train derailment cut off its already deteriorating route.
The station’s 365 windows, 200m platforms, and somewhat lavish style date back to train travel’s glory times. Historical records and documentaries explain its crucial role in the Second World War. After a while, Canfranc has become a historic site instead of a train station.
Currently, the Government of Aragon, France, and the European Commission are attempting to restore the station. The project seeks to restore Canfranc and reopen the Spain-France train line around 2026. A 50-year-old mausoleum has been given hope. So let’s discover the Canfranc Station!
Location Of The Canfranc Station
Canfranc Station, located in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France, was the largest
railway station in Europe and is packed with must-see landmarks and activities.
Why Is Canfranc Station Abandoned?
The railway station, which served as a hub for moving people and commodities across the border, was constructed in the early 20th century as a sign of friendliness between the two countries.
However, the station was partially destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, and during World War II, Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe used it as a transit location.
Station was renovated and reopened after the war, but as road transportation expanded and the border crossing between France and Spain was closed in 1970, it gradually lost its significance.
It was mostly abandoned and neglected in the years that followed.
The station remained vacant and abandoned despite numerous repair attempts in the 1980s and 1990s until the government of Aragon assumed control in 2013 and started a significant restoration project.
The station has been transformed into an elegant hotel and popular tourist destination today, reinforcing its illustrious heritage.
The History Of The Canfranc Station
In 1853, Spain and France chose to establish a train line to enhance trade. Because the railway started, Spain had two primary border crossings with France, but interest in a third was ongoing in the second half of the 19th century.
An ideal railway would need a station at the identical level, displaying Spain’s capacity to tackle and perform a complicated endeavor like the Canfranc railway with its massive station in a pristine Pyrenean valley.
The endeavor required 3.2 million pesetas (€20,000) and more than 1.2 million pesetas (€7,200) to set up entry points, docks, and additional services. Functional and aesthetic bases prompted the costs.
French palatial design shaped the diverse Beaux-Arts exterior. Initially, contrary to different border crossings, where every nation creates its own station, here it must be just one, forcing officials to employ more space as they replicated every necessary facility.
The station’s location inspired its layout. The increasing recognition of railways demanded a figurative structure. For this purpose, the eclectic Beaux-Arts exterior was shaped by French palatial architecture, but the inside was created with all the common Roman qualities.
In 1928, this huge hub, Europe’s second-largest, was finally finished. The splendor and legendary qualities have rendered it a railway “mecca” from its creation.
The Canfranc Station During The War
Canfranc’s popularity decreased despite its building and opening. A lobby fire cost 500,000 pesetas (€3,000) in losses three years after beginning. Canfranc’s downfall started here.
The story likely gave Canfranc the moniker “Titanic of the Mountains,” though specialists argue. Some researchers think the station’s huge framework matched the ship that sank a decade prior to Canfranc’s opening.
The group of spies that captured and expelled Resistance members, Jews, and the British military from France used Canfranc as a primary path. Others seem more pessimistic. Historians and journalists say it became known thus after the 1931 fire when any goals for the station were lost.
Canfranc was vital throughout the Second World War. The station and town were a “Casablanca in the Pyrenees” for Nazi and Spanish spies and a major trade crossing location. A Spanish dictator named Franco used Canfranc to provide basic supplies and food to Nazi Germany throughout the Second World War. Thus, it was just significant then.
The Spanish dictator used it to get gold from Switzerland using foreign currency from his tungsten business with the Allies. Lastly, a group of spies was established to capture and remove Resistance members, Jews, and the British military from France used it.
1970 Canfranc Station Spain Railroad Disaster
Following the war, traffic increased during the 1950s and 1960s. That wealth was brief. Considering its poor performance, the Canfranc line and station were regularly threatened, particularly in the 1960s. Underfunded, accidents occurred regularly.
A small mishap in March 1970 dealt the last blow to line security. A freight train crashed and hit a bridge, destroying it. The bridge could have been rebuilt, but its suspension enabled France to end the route it no longer wanted.
Traffic ceased, devastating Canfranc station and the nearby people. Before then, the hub hardly worked. Spanish trains stop at the Franco-Spanish border. Even now, the station is still active. Obviously, they are using a tiny portion of the amenities, far from their original purpose.
Canfranc Station Hotel: A Renovated 1920s Railway Station Turned into a Magnificent Hotel
Since 2013, Aragon has run the station and had several rehabilitation goals. Rebuilding the main station into a hotel would mean making a new station in the freight halls. Reopened the main route as the “western trans-Pyrenean line” might need Aquitaine’s government help.
In February 2020, the EU approved money to rebuild the throughline and start international services. In 2018, architects Joaquín Magrazó and Fernando Used worked with the Aragon government and the Barceló Hotel Group to turn the station structure into a hotel.
As planned, a fresh station structure was constructed behind the old one and reached by the hotel vestibule. The legendary station was rebuilt and secured in 2020. Roads and parks replace the former station tracks.
A 200-seat conference center, a local railway museum branch, stores, and a pilgrim retreat were all suggested for the structures and area. Canfranc lies on one of the paths to Santiago de Compostela.
The Canfranc Station Tour Guide
Canfranc Council offers tours of Canfranc Station, where visitors may learn about the facility’s illustrious past and lavish interior. Despite sitting empty for quite some time, the station has recently been renovated in preparation for use in a planned hotel.
Due to great demand and limited availability, guided tour tickets must be purchased in advance. Tickets must be reserved through the Council’s website, and individuals are not permitted entry.
The 40-minute tour will take you through the beautiful station while providing historical context in both Spanish and French. Beginning at the Straits and continuing beneath the underpass, visitors can take in the station’s splendor and learn about its intriguing history.
Visitors to Santiago de Compostela often stay in the Canfranc Station area and take advantage of the region’s guided tours. Hiking and skiing are only two of the many adventure sports available in the region.
The European Commission and the government of Aragon, France, are leading a significant restoration effort at the Canfranc International Railway Station, which has been vacant for nearly 50 years.
The station will be renovated as part of this project, and the Spain-France train line will reopen in 2026. A magnificent hotel and a well-liked tourist destination have been created from what was once a significant historical location, enhancing its storied past.
The Canfranc Station still stands tall with its 365 windows, 200-meter platforms, and relatively opulent design from the heyday of train travel, despite being largely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and later serving as a transit point for Jewish refugees during World War II.
The station’s French palace architecture-influenced Beaux-Arts facade and common Roman characteristics within add to its appeal. The Canfranc Station is a tribute to the cordial ties between Spain and France and a symbol of commerce, luxury, and modernity.
Taking a train or bus from the close-by cities of Zaragoza or Huesca is the most convenient way
to get to the station. You can travel directly by train, which takes around three hours, from
Zaragoza to Canfranc. Alternatively, you can go for around two hours by bus from Huesca to
Canfranc. Driving is an additional alternative but remembers that the roads leading to Canfranc
can be winding and narrow, particularly in the winter.
Yes, it is possible to get inside Canfranc Station in Spain.
Nazi Germany utilized the station as a transit location for stolen commodities and refugees
during World War II, turning it into a hub of conspiracy and espionage. The station was
abandoned for decades until work began to turn the building into a hotel.