CHAMBERI – The ghost metro station of Madrid

Spain’s glorious capital city can win just about anyone over thanks to its endless sunshine, beautiful streets and delicious food. For some reason Madrid doesn’t always have the best rep and people tend to compare it to Barcelona a lot. Madrid versus Barcelona is more than just an epic football rivalry, and tourists tend to love the flashy beachside Catalán capital a lot more than traditional Madrid. For me, Madrid is the real Spain. It doesn’t get anymore Spanish than Madrid. With great food, amazing arts and culture, historic neighbourhoods, fabulous shopping and super fun events, Madrid is the real deal when it comes to Spanish lifestyle. It often feels like you are stuck in a time warp when all the small shops close for siesta and locals gather around barrels in bars, downing tapa after tapa. Madrid has all the amenities and activities of a large capital city, but still retains its Spanish charm, with endless tapas bars lining the cobblestone streets, family-owned stores and restaurants scattered around the city.

If you already marked as seen the “must visit” museums and sites in Madrid why not trying something different and … free: a trip back in time, in 1918!

Normally a ride on the metro is just a way to get around, and a metro stop is just a place to catch a train. At Andén 0 of the Estación de Chamberí, that is definitely not the case. For many years travelling on the Madrid Metro’s line 1 (the “blue” line) I was intrigued by an old station flashing through the train car’s windows for a few seconds between the Bilbao and Iglesia stops. Searching the internet, I was surprise to find that one of Madrid’s newer attractions is actually quite old: Estación de Chamberí, a station closed since 1966, but now fully restored and reopened to the public as a museum with no entrance fee give you a chance to step back in time in 1918. And it probably is one of the best experiences I have lived in the Spanish Capital to date.

I had thought about going there so many times, but somehow it kept slipping my mind and plans. Finally, during my last trip to Madrid, this last Sunday late morning after a big night on the town I walked over to and stood in the long line for Andén 0 – Estación de Chamberí

King Alfonso XIII officially opened Madrid’s metro in 1917.  Back then it was only one line stretching four kilometers from Puerta del Sol to Cuatro Caminos.  A few years later, more lines were beginning to be added and by the 1960’s the metro system couldn’t hold Madrid’s growing population.  More cars were added to each train to hold more passengers and likewise the platforms were lengthened. In the case of the Chamberí station, it wasn’t touched at all. Being that it was built on a curve and already too close to the Bilbao and Iglesia stations, it was just abandoned. It wasn’t until 2006 that the station would be restored to it’s original state. As a result of the restoration work carried out for its final re-opening in 2008, it is now possible to view those brilliant, colourful, luminous finishes inspired from Paris metro stations. This project is the outcome of a cooperation agreement concluded between the City Council and Metro de Madrid and allows the public to become immersed in the history of the Madrid Underground and in the history of the city of Madrid itself, with which it is closely interwoven.

Chamberí Station is located under the square of the same name in one of the most famous neighbourhoods of the capital’s city centre and is very easy to find: just pick up the metro on line 1 and get off at Bilbao station. After a 10-15 minutes easy walk, on the corner of a random busy intersection in Madrid, a door opens to a spiral staircase which goes underground.  From the door, a line stretches down the street.  I knew this had to be it.

With the “one person out, one person in” policy it took 10 minutes to finally get down there.  I didn’t mind too much though, the attraction is free and the lack of people inside made the atmosphere much more pleasant once inside.

Visitors descend into the station, now dubbed Andén Cero (Platform Zero), through a modern spiral staircase and glass elevator (the only new additions to the station). Immediately to the left upon entering is a small theatre created from the old street entrance, which repeats a 20-minute film summarizing the history of the Madrid Metro system. While fascinating, the movie is in Spanish, without subtitles. Some of it is quite self-explanatory, however, so it may be worth watching even if your knowledge of Spanish is tapas-sized.

I walked past the old ticket counter then through the creaky turn-stalls.  From there I could see a few old, cracking metro maps which outlined the few stops on the old line.  As I walked down the corridor ( heard the sound of a train passing through. It was eerie to hear the sounds of a train, like an actual ghost train, still making its rounds. It was just one of the modern trains running on line 1 – since May 22, 1966 none of them stopped here in Chamberi. As each consecutive metro car passed through I watched as the passengers looked out the window at me and me to them.  With every passing train I felt like I was part of the attraction, rather than just visiting it.

Walking down to the platform I couldn’t get enough of the old advertisements made of tile lined the curved tunnel of the station. These bright ads have been hand-crafted, made up of many small ceramic tiles that put modern billboards to shame. Opposite this wall, on the far side of the platform, projectors display films of Madrid’s past. A clear glass barrier separates visitors from the tracks on which trains still speed through the station every few minutes.

The adverts on the wall, as well as the white tiles that cover the walls and vaults of the station are original and were designed by architect Antonio Palacios, creator of buildings like the Palacio de Cibeles and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This was the first such project in Spain, and the architect was inspired by the look of the Parisian stations of the time. He managed to mitigate the possible reluctance of the public to use the subway, by using bright, colourful materials in the spaces in contact with travellers, such as hallways, tunnels, passage and platform finishes, extensively using tiles and other white and cobalt blue ceramic pieces. Its design met the criteria of functionality, simplicity and economy.

In the 1960s, due to increased passenger traffic, it was decided to upgrade Metro Line 1 to allow commissioning new trains with greater capacity, up to six cars. To accommodate this, the platforms of all stations needed to be expanded from the previous specification of 60 meters that they had since the Metro’s opening, to the new standard length of 90 meters. Given the technical impossibility of extending Chamberí station and its proximity to those of Bilbao and Iglesia, the Ministry of Public Works decided to close it on 22 May 1966. The station remained unused for over forty years, with trains reducing their speed when passing through it, to which the platforms were cut to facilitate the movement. The fact that the external access had been bricked up allowed the conservation of many of the everyday objects of the time, such as billboards, turnstiles and even paper money.

This station served as a refuge for the homeless for many years, and there are legends that tell of strange apparitions, when the trains crossed, by this dark subway station. One of the most endearing things about the visit was seeing several older couples, who probably used the station when it was still open and had wanted to return to see it one more time.

I wandered around down there a little while longer, until I decided to go back above ground, to 2018 reality.  But just being down there and imagining I was travelling back in time, in a Madrid circa 1917 was a unique experience.

The Estación de Chamberí is a captivating step into the past. Especially given that admission is free, there are few compelling reasons to skip this small portal into Madrid’s history, even if the topic is more foreign than the Spanish language. There are few museums that really give visitors the sense of being in a different time: Andén Zero is one of those few.

The best way to get to the station is by Metro, appropriately enough. The museum is within five minutes of stops Bilbao and Iglesia, both on line 1. From the Bilbao Metro station, walk uphill on Calle de Luchana. From the Iglesia Metro station, walk south on Calle de Santa Engracia. The modern entrance to the museum is easy to find on the Plaza de Chamberí.

Opening Hours

Tuesday-Friday: 11:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.

Weekends and holidays: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Mondays: Closed.

Entry is free for everyone, but make sure to get there early, as a there is usually a long line of visitors due to the “one person out, one person in” policy.

~ by leonard69 on February 26, 2018.

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