The Abandoned Nazi Train Station Turned Underground Astroparticle Laboratory

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Aug. 8 2013 8:19 AM

The Abandoned Nazi Train Station Turned Underground Astroparticle Laboratory

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on FacebookTumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

What was once the biggest railway station in Europe is now a decaying shell overlooking train tracks smothered in weeds. Canfranc International Railway Station opened with much fanfare in 1928. Sprawling, glamorous, and equipped with a ritzy hotel, it was the centerpiece of a railway line between France and Spain.

During the early stages of World War II, the train route became a lifeline for Jews desperate to escape occupied France. But within a few years, the Nazis took control and a swastika flew above the station. Under Nazi control, gold plundered from murdered Jews left occupied France on the line bound for Portugal and Spain. After the war, Nazi war criminals slipped through allied hands on these same rail lines.


A train derailment in 1970 lead to the abandonment of the railway line and its elegant Art Nouveau station. Canfranc Estación saw little activity until 1985, when Spanish physicists took advantage of its remote location and abundant subterranean space and opened the Canfranc Underground Astroparticle Laboratory. Here, beneath the husk of a former transport hub, scientists conduct experiments on dark matter, neutrinos and geodynamics.

Deserted railways:

View 22880 Canfranc-Estación in a larger map
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.