Philips’ advertisement in Chamberí station

Join us on a journey back in time to 1919 Madrid...without leaving 2022!

This week Madrid Metro celebrated its 103rd anniversary, which encourages us to not only remember the history of the company, but also the history of the city of Madrid itself. We could recall dozens of milestones, facts and figures, but today we would like to primarily focus on vestiges of the original network, as well as some additional curious details. Let’s get to it!

18/10/2022

Starting at Chamberí, we will head to the ticket office where, on the notice board, we can consult a price table from 1924. Did you know that a century ago the ticket price was also calculated based on the number of stations you travelled through? It ranged from 15 to 35 cents.

Chamberí station notice board, with the 1924 price table

TRAVELLING UNDERGROUND IN1919

This station is known as a "ghost" station because it remains frozen in time and looks just as it did when it closed in 1966. However, to understand its architecture and design, we must go back to a much earlier date, as it formed part of Madrid Metro’s first line. It was first opened to the public in 1919. Can you imagine how impressive it must have been for the residents of Madrid over a century ago, to go down a tunnel to catch a train? It was a monumental change from how people used to get around!

Furthermore, we should take into account the fact that although these days stations are very well lit, so we do not get the feeling of being underground, in the first few decades of the 20th century light bulbs were incredibly low-powered. Hence why Madrid Metro's architect, Antonio Palacios, designed stations taking into account all of the resources available to him at the time, to make the most of the light coming in from outside at the entrance and lobby. After that, light could be brought in by lamps of that era.

So, how did he do it? He covered the walls of the corridors with white tiles, following the example of the London Underground. They used this material as it generates a constant glow effect, which helps guide travellers to the platform. What’s more, it also looks great!

Chamberí station corridors covered in white tiles

Now we are on the platform, we will be greeted by the station master. Well, a statue of a person who carried out a role that existed up until the 1970s. In this station, you will be taken aback by how low the ceiling is, which is also due to the aforementioned need to make the most of the light. This is because it concentrated the little light there was in the area on the thing that needed to be most visible: the floor.

Now another curiosity related to light: in this station we can see a Philips advert, where a Dutch woman is being blinded by a half Watt light bulb!

Talking of publicity...at Chamberí station, large companies such as Gal, Portland Cement, Aguas de Carabaña advertised in the form of true works of art: advertising posters which even bore a signature. However, at one end we can find a totally different looking poster. Have you spotted it?

It is a poster by Almacenes Rodriguez and it is different to the rest as when advertising seasonal clothes, they had to change the image relatively frequently. To do that, he made a "stencil" which featured a red sign that read: "please get off at Gran Via" and he left a blank space where seasonal items could be painted directly onto the stone. Curious, right?

Almacenes Rodríguez advertisement at Chamberí station, showing a blank space

CLASSIC TRAINS

Now we will take the L1 to Chamartín, which has been holding a classic train exhibition ever since 2019, the 100th year of Madrid Metro. Among them are the first trains that circulated on the network, such as the “Cuatro Caminos” model. Some of which were in service for over 70 years!

When talking about these early trains, we must consider the issue of light because, as we said previously, light was essential for a form of transport that went underground. We have already mentioned the fact the bulbs were not very powerful, but did you know that on these early trains, the bulbs were enclosed in magnificent glass lampshades? Just like in the best cafés in Madrid!

Many details of these trains were striking, from the interior to the wooden floors and seats, but today we want to focus on how information was conveyed to passengers inside the train.

Relating to that, we can find messages at the top of the cabin, typical of the civic campaigns of the time. Some of them are still applicable today, such as the fact that you must allow passengers to disembark before boarding the train and the fact smoking is forbidden inside. Moreover, one sign reminds us of something that seems pretty obvious today: you must not spit on board!

Another curious detail at the exhibition is the 1927 'Quevedo' carriage model, the first to incorporate advertising panels.

Space reserved for advertising inside a vintage Metro train

In addition to the trains, at this exhibition you will discover a collection of historical pieces, including objects as diverse as a telephone from the 1960s, as well as a sample of the different uniforms worn by the staff over the course of the century.

ELECTRICAL SUBSTATIONS

Now we will stop exploring the internal workings of the network and we will head to the Engine Shed, which was also designed by Antonio Palacios and was opened in 1924. 

It houses three 1500 hp diesel engines, each weighing no less than 161.5 tonnes, not including the alternator. Its purpose was of course to generate the required power for the network, but during the Civil War it also provided electricity to the city of Madrid through the company Unión Eléctrica Madrileña.

It was the most powerful power station of its time, but it stopped generating power in the 1950s, as companies were then able to ensure an increasingly regular supply. As a result, it was closed down in 1972.

For a decade the engines were started up once a year, until 1982, when they were fired up for the very last time. Do you know why they did that? It was to pay tribute to the last electrical services officer who had worked in the engine shed, even on the day of his retirement.

Ever since and right up until it was restored in 2008, it remained closed. However, today the public can visit it and in 2013 it was declared one of the Community of Madrid’s Bienes de Interés Cultural (Assets of Cultural Interest) in the monument category.

Engines on restored inside the Nave de Motores de Pacífico

We will end the tour with another electrical substation which is not as well known, but which was still the work of Antonio Palacios: the Quevedo substation. Its original Engine Shed, on Olid street, was built in 1926 and was extended in 1929 to Gonzalo de Córdoba street.

Although with completely different facilities to the original, the substation continues to supply power to lines 1 and 2 and it also houses offices, more specifically for TTP tests.

Façade of the Quevedo electricity substation, with the Metro diamond at the top

Did you like the route we suggested for you? If so, remember that Chamberí station, the Pacífico Engine Room and Chamartín train exhibition are part of Madrid Metro museum’s Andén Cero project, and they can all be visited. You can book your tickets via the following link: https://www.metromadrid.es/es/quienes-somos/museos-de-metro