The history of Canfranc and its heroism is well-known in Spain, but few have heard of the railway station in the rest of Europe.
Considering its 241 meters of length, 12 of width, a classic 19th-century architectural style, and 365 windows, you would expect to find Canfranc in a European city. However, it is located 1194 meters above sea level, in the Spanish Pyrenees, far away from big towns on either side of the border. That is why it became a European spy hub during World War II.
The Nazis used the station to transport the gold they had stolen from European banks and Jews in camps. This trade with Franco’s government for Wolfram was secret since Spain was officially neutral.
On the other side, the Résistance, the French underground movement against the Nazis, had an ally in Canfranc. The station’s head Albert Le Lay helped many Jews, possibly including the German painter Max Ernst or the Russian Marc Chagall. He also passed messages, money, and even a radio from one to the other side of the border.
Under a varnish of neutrality, locals harboured fierce idealism. The Spanish sisters Pilar and Lola Pardo, only 26 and 17 at the time respectively, took the train every other week to Zaragoza, bringing confidential messages under their clothes. The history of Canfranc is tied with those who had a vision for a democratic Europe. After the Nazis were defeated though, the rail station was nearly forgotten.
In 1970, a train derailed, no one died, but it destroyed the Estanguet bridge. Plans to rebuild it were postponed. But this place filled with unlikely heroes will get an opportunity to experience a rebirth. In 2022, the train station will become a luxury hotel, and the international line will be reopened in 2025.
Let’s hope future travelers can bring back the story. Reviving the station will shed a light on the last war Western Europe lived through.