La Estación de Canfranc was an incredible place, Spain on one side and France on the other, built to be opulent in 1928 and opened by the King of Spain and the President of the French Republic. Two separate tracks of different gauges met on each side here, so passengers had to transfer from one to the other. Now it is only a station on the Spanish side, a one-car train toiling up the mountains in its three hour and forty minute journey from Zaragoza, lost in front of this faded magnificence.
It was a passage used by the resistance against Franco and the Nazis, an escape route for Jews and others fleeing Germany and Vichy France and a centre for anti-fascist spies and the forging and distribution of necessary travel documents and other papers. People who fled through here:
I was sure Walter Benjamin had also come through here but now I can’t find anything about that, so I can no longer say and it seems possible it isn’t true at all. But still…
In 1942 the Nazis took control of the area — the only part of Spain where they did so. The gestapo began pulling people off of trains. The Nazis moved their plundered Jewish gold through the station.
The station was closed in 1970, fell into ruins. Part of it’s been brought back to some of its former glory
We walked through a damp tiled tunnel.
Came out into the station
Where each country has its own booths of beautiful carved wood.
And outside onto the French platform into a beautiful evening
From here, the French train once left the Tunel de Somport
It now holds a physics laboratory deep beneath the mountains to study dark matter. If we’d only known and given three weeks advance notice, we might have seen some of this, but we did not. Still, there were many trains.
And this station that we kept catching sight of as we walked.
Something more to read: