Abandoned architecture serves as a portal to the lost and forgotten. Traversing through history and narratives sometimes instils a deep sense of nostalgia within us. The mere fact of their abandonment draws our attention. Simply because every structure has a story to tell and a peak of something that was once lived. This emotional value is most likely what drives the growing impulse to reconsider these forgotten places. Their strangeness, and sometimes mundane identity, triggers our imagination and elicits an instinct to protect them. Below is one such intriguing structure that was forgotten in time but now with triggers of reconsideration.
The Initial Days
At an elevation of 1195 metres, the deserted Canfranc International Station in Spain is found deep in the Aragon river valley, near to the French border. Reopened in a grand style in 1928 in the presence of the King of Spain and the President of the French Republic, it was Europe’s busiest rail hub.
The station was built on a massive scale to serve as a significant cross-border railway central. Its main building features 365 windows and 156 doors along a 240-meter length of elaborate Beaux-Arts architecture. The station encountered many highs and lows, with facilities temporarily hindered by the intentional sealing of the Somport tunnel during the Spanish Civil War, while it was largely used by international traffic during WWII as the “Casablanca in the Pyrenees”. Canfranc was a hub of drama and activity, with imprisonment, spying, and gold robbery all taking place. The dilemma that arises is, how did such a lavish station, high up on a mountaintop in a village of 500 people, ever see the light of day?
The Reasons for Its Abandonment
After the war, traffic restored to normal for a brief period, and the station remained stable in between 1950s and 1960s. Although authorities became increasingly pessimistic about the station’s and line’s coming years during the 1960s. However, this period of prosperity was rather brief.
The final nail in the coffin occurred in March 1970, when a “relatively minor accident” raised safety concerns on the line. A freight train derailed from the tracks and destroyed a bridge. Although the bridge could have been refurbished without any issues, the temporary ban of service provided an opportunity to close the line in which France had already lost interest.
The Present Condition
The grand structure itself deteriorated. The tracks rusted, the roofs collapsed subject to harsh winter weather, and vandalism took its toll.
That is, before 1985, when Spanish scientists started to realise Canfranc would make an excellent location for a subsurface astroparticle lab.
With an entrance underneath the station and mobile laboratory built up in the old railway vaults, it is utilized for dark matter research.
Although the station’s opulent past is reflected in ornate plasterwork and intricate brass light fittings that are still on display.
Canfranc train station’s wrecked hotel lobby, once the peak of art nouveau splendour, is now nothing more than a crumbling wreck.
Canfranc station’s picturesque surroundings now bear little resemblance to its climactic and devastating past, but officials hope that new restoration plans will both retain the station’s history and drive tourism. Green trees and jagged mountains shape the decaying but eye-catching shell of the station. However, the town now relies on natural tourism, such as skiing, other services, and overall tourism brought by the train station. Efforts to revitalise the old structure are still in their early stages, but plans call for a hotel and a smaller station.
The Future Plans of Revival
The 104-room hotel is being designed in collaboration with the regional government of Aragón, the Barceló hotel chain, and architects Joaquin Magrazó and Fernando. The estimated cost is €27 million, with the Aragón government contributing €12 million to restore the tracks and develop the surroundings.
The facade will be preserved, but a new station will be built behind the existing one, accessible through the hotel atrium. As Canfranc is on one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela, the complex will include a 200-seat conference centre, a railway museum, shops, and a pilgrim refuge. The hotel is expected to revitalize the village once construction is completed at the end of next year, although it may take some time before the link to Pau, France, is operational again.
In addition, France and Spain committed in 2020 to begin construction on repairing the 7.8-kilometer Somport tunnel that links two countries, and the Canfranc line and station are expected to be completely operational by 2026 with EU funding.
History has proven how innovative design can revitalise and repurpose even the most damaged structures. Places may be maintained and given new significance instead of being demolished and erased, illustrating that bold repairs and restoration projects have the capacity to reshape societies, neighbourhoods, and cities. Although, like the Titanic, Canfranc can be interpreted as a metaphor for failed aspiration and a series of bad fates. However, future plans are undoubtedly new rays of hope!