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The grandiose Nazi railway station in the middle of the mountains: Abandoned transport hub in Spanish Pyrenees which was once the escape route for Jewish refugees before it fell into German hands

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By Daniel Miller

PUBLISHED: 05:15 EST, 9 August 2013 | UPDATED: 07:17 EST, 9 August 2013

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It was the largest and most glamorous railway station in the world, a shining jewel of Art Nouveau elegance nestling high in the Pyrenees mountains.

But after a chequered history which saw it commandeered by the Nazis during the Second World War, Canfranc International Railway Station has slowly slipped into disrepair and is now little more than a crumbling shell.

Yet it hides a remarkable secret  - deep below the surface in the old tunnels that cross the border between Spain and France, scientists have set up movable astroparticle laboratories where they are attempting to unlock the mysteries of dark matter. 

End of the line: The abandoned Canfranc railway station on the border between Spain and France

End of the line: The abandoned Canfranc railway station on the border between Spain and France

Chequered history: Adolf Hitler and Spanish leader Gen. Francisco Franco give the Nazi salute as they walk down a carpet at Canfranc in 1940

Chequered history: Adolf Hitler and Spanish leader Gen. Francisco Franco give the Nazi salute as they walk down a carpet in a picture believed to have been taken at Canfranc in 1940

Situated on the Spanish side of the border, Canfranc opened to a great fanfare in 1928 and was the shining centrepiece of the main line between France and Spain.

For years, travellers marvelled at the stunning architecture as those who could afford it, checked in to its luxurious adjoining hotel.

The station and the tunnel linking Spain and France were closed during the Spanish Civil War but later re-opened and the station became busy once more.

At the start of the World War Two, Canfranc provided a vital lifeline for thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing occupied Europe.

Spooky: The derelict bar at Canfranc Station has been left to slowly crumble into disrepair

Spooky: The derelict bar at Canfranc Station has been left to slowly crumble into disrepair

Ornate plasterwork and an intricate brass light fitting still on display are a testament to the station's glamorous past

Detail: Ornate plasterwork and an intricate brass light fitting still on display hint at the station's glamorous past

In 1940 Spanish Dictator Franco was pictured proudly leading Hitler along one of its wide sprawling platforms.

The Nazi leader appears to have been impressed and, after recognising the station's logistical importance, the Germans took control raising their Swastika flag above the ornate towers.

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

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

An abandoned platform at the derelict Canfranc Estacion railway station

A platform at the derelict Canfranc Estacion railway station. The line was abandoned after a derailment in 1970

The derelict hotel lobby in the Canfranc Estacion railway station, once the epitome of art nouveau glamour, now little more than a crumbling ruin

The derelict hotel lobby in the Canfranc Estacion railway station, once the epitome of art nouveau glamour, now little more than a crumbling ruin

A station sign at the derelict Canfranc Estacion railway station on the France - Spain border

A station sign at the derelict Canfranc Estacion railway station on the France - Spain border

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. Luckily no one was killed, but it spelt the end for CanFranc as a railway station.

Abandoned and apparently forgotten, it became prey to vandals, visited only by the occasional curious tourist, the once magnificent walls were daubed with graffiti, the gleaming ticket hall and other offices allowed to collect dust and debris.

Second life: The railway station is now used as an astroparticle physics lab with experiments taking place in the tunnels deep underground

Second life: The railway station is now used as an astroparticle physics lab with experiments taking place in the tunnels deep underground

A diagram shows how the laboratories, where scientists research dark matter, are situated in tunnels deep below the surface

A diagram shows how the laboratories, where scientists research dark matter, are situated in tunnels deep below the surface

That was until 1985 when Spanish physicists realised Canfranc would be the perfect location for an underground astroparticle 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.

Over the years there has been much talk about reopening it as a station, but although some plans have been put forward, it seems an unlikely pipe dream.

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