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Madrid: Atocha Train Station and its Unique Greenhouse
A tiny bit of what could pass for history
Atocha train station, née South Station, was inaugurated on February 9th 1851, the first railway station in the city of Madrid.
Its last expansion, under Rafael Moneo, was completed on 1992, the year when Spain hosted both the Olympics in Barcelona and Seville's Universal Exhibition. In fact, such expansion was to accommodate the fabulous and brand new high-speed train infrastructure, known as AVE, which takes travelers from Madrid to Seville in under 2.5 hours.
Today, the AVE reaches many other places, including Barcelona, and has become a serious competitor to planes. I hardly ever take the plane anymore to see the family, I really enjoy the comfort and convenience of the high speed train –no long ride to the airport, just walk down from home to the platforms, and no security nuisances, you can carry your water bottles up to the train, what do you know.
March 11, 2004
Atocha isn't known outside Madrid for any of its multiple historic milestones, such as soldiers being shipped from it to the oriental and south fronts during the civil war, however, but by the fatal terrorist attack that occurred under its roof on March 11th 2004, which left 192 dead people and over 1500 injured.
Sadly, one of my favorite places in Madrid, in the world, really, became a name in the circuit of terror. I'll never forget that day, I was there. What's more, it all blew up in platform 2, the one I take 3 or 4 days a week to go to work.
That deadly incident is engraved in my mind, but it never could put me off Atocha, it's still a place in my heart, maybe even more so after that terrible day.
The beauty of Atocha: The Greenhouse
One of a kind
The one-of-a-kind greenhouse within the old station premises is what makes Atocha so special and dear to me. When I say one-of-a-kind I'm not exaggerating, the immense greenhouse in the station is unique in the world, and if it isn't yet listed in the travel guides, it most certainly should be.
The part of the station where the greenhouse resides dates back to 1851, it was painstaking restored as part of the 1992 expansion and adapted to host a simply amazing urban jungle, including a pond with 22 species of fish and turtles. In the summer months, when the dry heat of Madrid seeps through the glass roof, hundreds of tiny sprinklers let off a sort of steam, not quite water, giving the place a genuine look of outdoors jungle.
This makes Atocha not simply a traveler's space, but also a haven to stop by and have a coffee, read a book, or simply enjoy the view in a very well kept tropical climate.
The 4000 square meters (13,123 square feet) of green area host 7200 plants of 260 species from places like India, Australia, Asia o China among many others. Species are of two kinds, tropical and subtropical, and to make both happy and keep them in good health, temperature is kept between 22 and 24 Celsius degrees (71.6 to 75.2 Fahrenheit) and humidity between 60 and 70 percent.
Among all the plants, it seems the jewel of the crown is the Washingtonia, named after George Washington, the first president of the USA. It's the highest of all, it ranges from 30 to 40 meters. In the confines of the greenhouse, it almost reaches the glass roof and its been secured to the floor and roof to avoid potential injuries should it decide to topple down one day. It's in excellent health though, as most others, the only trials experienced by both plants and gardeners are the ever present dryness in Madrid and the multitude of souls that invade the sanctity of the jungle every day.
The Traveler's Tree
This huge banana tree welcomes anyone that decides to wander by the paths of the greenhouse jungle. It's known as the traveler's tree and a tradition says that if a visitor stops in front of it and wishes for something it will become true. Careful, there are a few banana trees in the midst, not all will do the trick, just the one at the head of the pack.
I'm lucky to live close by, lucky twice to commute through Atocha, and lucky three times to never ever forget to feel joy at crossing this space as often as I do. If you're ever in Madrid, don't miss Atocha.
Note: The photos used in this article aren't the best one can find featuring Atocha station at large and the greenhouse in particular, but they are all mine and it's what I'm sharing. I hope they still do the trick to convince you this is a wonderful space.