It was built in the place called Los Arañones, today known as Canfranc Estación, at an altitude of 1194 meters above sea level, and which together with Canfranc Pueblo form the municipality of Canfranc in Huesca. Close to the border with France, it was inaugurated on July 18, 1928. Its construction, which lasted about 75 years, was part of the project to create a border crossing through the Pyrenees to communicate Spain with France. To do so, and taking advantage of the line that linked Tardienta with Huesca and Huesca with Jaca, it was only necessary to connect Jaca with Canfranc by rail and open the Somport tunnel. But before visiting the International Station of Canfranc let's know a little more of its history.
The Midi Francés and Norte de España companies presented the project for the international station between 1909-1910. Work on the building, designed by the engineer Fernando Ramírez de Dampierre, began in 1921 once the final project was approved with its modifications, which did not affect the external appearance of the building but did affect its structure and some elements of the construction. It was the engineer Ramón Martínez de Velasco, who after the death of Ramírez de Dampierre while the station was being built, was in charge of finishing the work. On August 3, 1925 the work of the International Station of Canfranc was officially handed over to the State and its official inauguration was on July 18, 1928, attended by the King of Spain Alfonso XIII and the President of the French Republic, Gaston Doumergue, among other personalities. The history of the station has been marked since its beginnings by the transit of goods between France and Spain through Canfranc. The period of greatest activity was during the Second World War, when Spain sent wolfram and pyrite on its rails to armor Nazi armament and Germany reciprocated with gold and jewels. After several decades of ups and downs in its activity, often caused by political disagreements, the international rail traffic was suspended when, on March 27, 1970, a freight train loaded with corn rushed over the bridge of L'Estanguet, in the French section, causing its breakage and destroying the passage over the river. The accident marked the end of the international connection. The Canfranc railway complex is currently undergoing a comprehensive reform and the project includes transforming the historic passenger station into a hotel, rehabilitating the rest of the buildings into one of the three sub-sites of the Railway Museum of Aragon, a new passenger station, a visitor center for the Camino de Santiago, housing, pedestrian plazas, green areas and parking lots. On April 15, 2021, the new passenger station was inaugurated, partially rehabilitating two old freight hangars.
This impressive building, built in concrete, iron and glass, has always had, despite its deterioration, a halo that attracts tourists and train enthusiasts who want to satisfy their interest in what to see at the International Station of Canfranc. The main building amazes us with its 75 doors on each side and 365 windows, as many as there are days in a year. It is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle that once reigned in a facility that housed in the same space all the necessary services of an international crossing of the time: ticket offices and offices of both operators of the service: Caminos de Hierro del Norte de España and Chemins de Fer du Midi, the customs offices of both countries, police and carabinieri stations, currency exchange, post office, public telegraph, infirmary, canteen, restaurant, an international hotel, lodgings for the railwaymen of both countries, garages or hangars for goods several docks for transshipment of goods, and the engine depot. It also had two underpasses. Nowadays we find a fenced building, access is limited and by guided tours in which you can see the lobby and the underpass. But we can walk along the docks and see the engine depot and the various cranes that still remain on the sides of the tracks.
Located between the imposing and majestic Pyrenean mountains, after visiting Canfranc Station, we can enjoy the spectacular scenery surrounding the International Station of Canfranc through the manyhiking routes that will bring us closer to impressive lakes such as Estanés or Ip. Walk some of the stages of the Way of Saint James in its passage through the area or the Gr 11, famous Pyrenean Path. Also in the nearby Aspe Valley we can walk the famous hiking route Chemin de la Mâture that runs between the vertical rock walls of the Gorges d'Enfer ravine. Follow the route Senda de los Contrabandistas is a good option to do in the surroundings of the International Station of Canfranc; or follow a simple hiking route that starting from Canfranc Station will bring us closer to Canfranc village which is worth visiting calmly.
In Canfranc it is said that all the signs above the gates were in both Spanish and French and that they were spoken indistinctly depending on the speaker. Tradition has it that 86 tons of Nazi gold stolen from the Jews passed through the International Station of Canfranc, mostly destined for Portugal. Like any place where mystery, history and legends coexist, Canfranc had its Café de Rick de Casablanca, the mythical restaurant La Fonda de Marraco, where the historical moment made them coincide, sharing drinks and conversations, truck drivers passing gold, the Gestapo, the Germans who were going to talk on the phone, a Jew who was under the counter of Marraco while the Germans asked for something... And that many of the people who passed through Canfranc were sheltered by Marraco in his house.
"The Pyrenees have ceased to exist", said Alfonso XIII in 1928, when the Canfranc railroad station was inaugurated. It is also noteworthy that the International Station of Canfranc, surrounded by mountains and in a strategic location on the border with France, has been converted into a stage and film set for numerous movies and documentaries. Canfranc, Última Estación, Volver a Canfranc, El rey de Canfranc, El lodo mágico, Lo saben los bosques, De tu ventana a la mía, La frontera dormida, El santuario .... among many others.
The heroes of Canfranc Station, some are already legends and others like Albert Le Lay, head of the French customs and member of the Resistance during the Second World War, who while pretending to collaborate with the Nazis in reality helped hundreds of refugees, many of them Jews, to enter Spain, have gone down in history, all with a common link, for their important humanitarian work in a great human trauma. Another of the many legends that hover and are confused, perhaps, with history, is the one that tells that in the cemetery of Canfranc, rest in perfect harmony and coexistence, a Jew who tried to escape through the Spanish-French border and a Nazi general.
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The E-7 road connects Canfranc with Jaca. Canfranc has a regular bus service that covers the route Jaca - Canfranc - Astún every day at different times and although there are no rail connections with France, SNCF has TER buses that cover the Canfranc-Bedous route. The Media Distancia trains operated by Renfe Viajeros are the only ones that stop at the station and link Zaragoza with Canfranc at a rate of two daily services in both directions.
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