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Once glamorous railway station with Nazi past gains second life - as laboratory

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The onetime beautiful Canfranc International Railway Station located in the mountains that border France and Spain has gained a new lease on life. A former stunning example of Art Nouveau architecture, the station fell into Nazi hands and fell into disrepair after a disastrous wreck in 1960. The station now is enjoying a second life, here; ironically, scientists use the mammoth facility to study - "dark matter."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Nestling high in the Pyrenees mountains, Canfranc holds a secret deep below the surface. In the old tunnels that cross the border between Spain and France, scientists have set up movable astro-particle laboratories where they now try to unlock the mysteries of dark matter.

Located on the Spanish side of the border, Canfranc opened to a great fanfare in 1928. Travelers enjoyed the stunning architecture. Well-heeled patrons checked in to its luxurious adjoining hotel.

Closed during the Spanish Civil War the station was later re-opened and the station became busy once more. It was at the beginning of the World War II that Canfranc at first provided a lifeline for thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing occupied Europe. 

Spanish Dictator Franco proudly led Adolf Hitler along one of its wide sprawling platforms in 1940. Hitler was highly impressed and after recognizing the station's logistical importance, the Germans took control raising the Swastika flag above the ornate towers.

The Nazis first used it to transport hundreds of tons of looted gold plundered across Europe.

The station that had once helped thousands of Jews flee the holocaust was used by Nazi War criminals towards the end of the war to evade capture themselves.

The station returned to business as usual in the 1950s and 1960s, It was used as a set for the 1965 film "Doctor Zhivago."

A large steam locomotive jumped the rails and crashed in 1970. Luckily no one was killed, but it meant the end for Canfranc as a railway station.

Canfranc was then vandalized, visited only by the occasional curious tourist. The once magnificent walls were now marred with graffiti, the gleaming ticket hall and other offices allowed to collect dust and debris.

It was only until 1985 when Spanish physicists realized Canfranc would be the perfect location for an underground astro-particle laboratory. It is now used to research dark matter, with an entrance beneath the station and movable labs set up in the old railway tunnels.

The notion of revitalizing Canfranc as a railway center has been brushed aside, the idea being that this was the use the location held for a darker, more troubled era.

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