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Trains are one of the oldest methods of land transportation and train stations are, quite literally, a crossroads. They bring passengers in to explore big cities and shuttle them out to enjoy remote countrysides. During the time spent in a train station, however, there's no saying how wonderful it can truly be, especially when it comes to the most beautiful train station in the world.

Located in the heart of Madrid - and often called Madrid's 'Iron Heart,' the Atocha Train Station is arguably the most beautiful railway in the world. Though it has seen many architectural changes throughout its history, it remains, to this day, a stunning part of the city. It's not only its architecture that sets it apart from every other train station in the world; the features - both living and non - throughout the interior of Atocha also make it a memorable travel experience for many people.


The Incredible History Of Atocha, The World's Most Beautiful Train Station

Atocha was built in 1851 and was to be the first train station in the city of Madrid. This served as one of the first major transportation hubs, and it was also the cornerstone by which every other railway was built around the city, cementing it as a permanent structure. Its style, which is quite unique, was inspired by late 19th-century ironworks, which can be seen in the central nave. This singular, front-facing feature is often the most memorable part of Atocha's architecture and is how it's so easily recognizable even to those who aren't familiar with Madrid. However, the central train station didn't always look this way and had quite a humble beginning.

Originally, the preexisting structure was nothing more than a wooden train station that featured a simple design. Even more, the train station was originally intended for royalty, thus starting out as a luxury station that was not open to the public. At that time, Atocha was called the Central Station of Madrid before train travel had evolved so much that the need grew to turn it into a major transportation hub. Sadly, not long after it was expanded to accommodate higher volumes of travel, a fire severely damaged the structure in 1864.

This structural fire was also the catalyst for the iron that can be seen in the architecture of the train station today, as iron was able to withstand damage that wood could not. Alberto de Palacio y Elissague was the architect commissioned to design the central nave, who formerly collaborated on Gustave Eiffel. He was not alone in the architectural endeavor, however; Henri Saint-James, a French engineer at the time, drew inspiration from the Paris Universal Exposition for Atocha's iconic iron canopy.

During the 1980s, as train travel grew once again, Rafael Moneo was the architect commissioned for the remodel expansion. This expansion included Puerta de Atocha as well as Atocha-Cercanías, which also connected to the Metro Station. The third part of the train station is the original 19th-century terminal, still featuring its classic iron construction even though its railways are no longer in use.

Related: Architecturally Awe-Inspiring European Train Stations Worth Visiting

The Tropical Garden That Grows Within Atocha

One of the key defining features of Atocha today is its magnificent tropical garden. Home to all ranges of exotic plant life, this quite literally brings the living, growing room to life. The idea was the brainchild of Rafael Moneo during the remodel, and it has continued to be a feature that many people can't help but explore during their travels through Atocha. Located in the Central Nave, this massive garden encompasses a space that measures 152 meters in length and towers at a height of 27 meters. The design of the room echoes that of a greenhouse, featuring iron and glass to mimic that same atmosphere.

Plants have quite literally taken over the abandoned railways and platforms, featuring more than 7,200 in total, which are made up of at least 260 different species. Some plants one can find in Atocha's tropical garden include:

  • Coconut trees
  • Banana trees
  • Breadfruit trees

Upon first entering the central nave, one will notice that it feels more like a tropical rainforest than an actual train station terminal. This is due to the sunlight that streams through the glass atrium, combined with the misting that occurs to keep the plants hydrated. This large botanical garden is like nothing ever seen before in a train station and is home to plants from five different continents around the world, according to barcelo.com.

A Tragic Memorial Tribute In Atocha

Another defining feature of Atocha is the memorial built to honor the victims who lost their lives during the attack on the train station in 2004. Following the ruthless events of that tragic day, 193 people would ultimately pay the price. To immortalize them and their stories, a cylindrical tribute, standing at a height of 11 meters, would be unveiled by the King and Queen of Spain. Inside the cylinder-shaped building, visitors will find hundreds of condolences, with messages written by Madrid citizens following the attack. It is a humbling, and necessary, part of Atocha that should be visited with solemnity and respect in mind.

Even those just passing through Madrid will find that seeking out Atocha does prove it to truly be the 'iron heart' of the city. From its architecture to the strength that is evident in its perseverance, it's a worthy destination to add to one's Spain itinerary.