by Richard Morley
This week I was one of the first visitors to Madrid’s latest attraction. In 1966 the Ministry of Public Works, finding that Chamberí Metro station could not be easily modified to take the new six-carriage trains and that the area was already well served with other accesses to the metro system, decided to close the station. For forty-two years only the tracks running through the station have been maintained as it lies on the busy Line 1. Meanwhile, the platforms and access tunnels and stairs slowly crumbled. On the surface a new plaza was built with relaxing benches, raised flower beds and a bandstand surrounded by busy cafés and bars, leaving no clue to what lay beneath.
Two years ago it was decided to resurrect the station as a museum. It opened this Monday. A photograph shows the derelict state of the ticket office that the workmen found. Today it has been restored to its original ceramic-tiled glory as envisioned by the first architect of the metro, Antonio Palacios.
The visitor enters via a spiral staircase, or lift, sited on the corner of Calles Luchana and Santa Engracia. Two spirals down one passes through the vestibule to where a small tiered cinema, cleverly formed from an old stepped passage, shows a twenty-minute film describing the Metro’s history — from its beginnings in 1922 to the present day. There are evocative scenes of the metro tunnels in use as air-raid shelters during the Civil War and sequences of old pre-metro Madrid with its uncluttered tramways.
Down the steps, no elevators here, through the old style ticket office with its heavy steel gates, the descent leads to the actual platform. The museum planners have designated this “Andén Cero”. The platform is barricaded from the tracks by thick glass panels as the Line 1 trains pass through at high speed.
Overhead the white ceramic bricks gleam in the light of passing trains. On the far platform, on screens once graced by the advertisements of the time, more motion pictures of bygone Madrid are projected. Some of the old advertisements still exist, created from brightly coloured ceramic tile. These were not changed weekly!
The visit, including the film show, takes less than an hour. It presents a curious and evocative glimpse of times gone by. The restoration has given Madrid a time capsule of life before today’s frantic bustle.
Metro: Bilbao, Iglesia and Rubén Darío (The train no longer stops at Chamberí.) Address: Corner of C/ Luchana and Santa Engracía Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11:00-19:00; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 10:00-14:00; closed Mondays.
See location on map below: