Friday 13 March 2009

Madrid Metro Museum at Chamberi

A year ago, I was one of the first visitors to the just opened Metro Museum in Madrid.

In 1966 the Ministry of Public Works, finding that Chamberi Metro station could not be easily modified to take the longer six carriage trains, because it was built on a curve, decided to close the station. This was no great loss. The area is well served with other accesses to the metro system; there are three stations within five hundred metres of the Plaza de Camberi and a forth only a little further away.

For forty-two years only the tracks running through the station were 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; a place of relaxing benches under shady trees, raised flowerbeds, a children’s playground, and a bandstand surrounded by terraced cafés, leaving no clue to what lay beneath.

Then someone had the bright idea to resurrect the station as a museum. In 1966, the metro was very different from the sleek and modern system that runs today. The material used then was brick and tile, steel and wood. The restoration took two years.

This is not a large place. The majority of the museum lies along just one of the platforms. Even if you linger it won’t take you longer than ten minutes. This would be a place to visit when you have a spare hour – and that would give you time to also let you take a coffee in the Plaza above. And entrance is free.

The photograph above shows the derelict state of the ticket office that the workmen found. Today it has been restored to its original ceramically tiled glory as envisioned by the first architect of the metro, Antonio Palacios.

Antonio Palacios Ramilo was a Spanish architect whose works can be seen all over Spain. In Madrid his works include the Palacio de Comunicaciones, that wedding cake castle of a building at Cibeles, and the Circulo de Fines Artes and the Rio de le Plata bank, among many others.

He had a vision for the Madrid Metro and he assumed that the people of the city, used to broad open, sunlit skies, would not enjoy being confined in a dank and dismal underground. So he designed his stations to be as high and wide as the technology of the day allowed. To further reduce the claustrophobic effect he used brilliant white or light coloured tiles to line the walls and installed the best lighting of the day. It is possible to see examples of his work at existing stations, most notably at Tirso de Molina and Menéndez Pelayo.

The visitor enters via a spiral staircase or lift sited on the corner of Calles de Luchana and Santa Engracia. Two spirals down one passes through the vestibule to where a small tiered cinema, cleverly formed from an ancient stepped access, shows a twenty minute film describing the Metro’s history – from it’s beginnings in 1919 to the present day. Here are views of old, preMetro Madrid with its uncluttered, tramways and evocative scenes of the metro tunnels in use as air-raid shelters during the Civil War.

Down the steps, no escalators 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 “Anden Zero”. (Platform Zero)

The station lies on line one, between Iglesia and Bilbao stations and the trains whizz through at high speed. Fortunately, the platform is barricaded from the tracks by thick panels of glass, through which the visitor can view the opposite platform where short films of preMetro Madrid are projected on to screens.

Overhead the white ceramic bricks gleam in the light of passing trains.

Advertisements for mineral water, light bulbs and Gal, the famous Spanish perfumers are set in coloured tile. The ads didn’t get changed weekly then. It would have taken a team of workmen days to do the job!

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. If you have a spare hour and want to shelter from the heat of a Madrid summer, then I recommend this little treat.

Open Mondays to Fridays from 11:00 to 19:00 and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 to 14:00.
Nearest Metros: Bilbao, Iglesia, Alonzo Martínez and Ruban Dario. The train no longer stops at Chamberi.


  1. I live vicariously in Spain through your blog and learn some history also. Gracis and mahalo.

  2. just stumbled upon your blog! I'm fascinated with the metro so I look forward to checking this museum out upon my visit to madrid!