Gustave Eiffel and his fixation with trains

The renowned Gustave Eiffel, master of modern architecture, became a leading figure after designing the most emblematic tower in the French capital city. However, that isn’t his only work. Eiffel also left a trace of his inventions in Spain. Granada, Girona, Donostia-San Sebastián and Córdoba are some of the cities that still preserve fragments of his imagination, as well as the hand of one of the greatest civil engineers of the 19th century.

It must be noted that there’s usually a sense of controversy surrounding the authorship of these works, since the architect himself had his own art school which encouraged the French architectural style. From this art school emerged some of the most recognised architects in Spain, and this is the main reason why there are so many metallic structures that resemble Eiffel’s own style —but are not quite certainly his.

Nevertheless, something we do know for sure is the fact that Eiffel asked for different licences in Spain to create his own designs. Considering all that, in Fascinating Spain we have listed the most iconic pieces in Spain that have been attributed to Eiffel.

Railway bridges in Girona, Cáceres and Granada

A look through the licences and registries of that time will reveal us the intention behind the majority of Eiffel’s projects in Spain: Most of them were designed with a specific usefulness, intended for bearing with difficult weather conditions and heavy weights, as in the case of the railway bridges. The French architect designed many of them throughout the peninsula, following different important train lines such as the ones from Asturias, Galicia and León. His most popular railway bridges are located in Girona, Cáceres and El Hacho, Granada.

A large bridge, resembling a metalic structure, in the countryside

The bridge of El Hacho, Granada. | Wikimedia

The old bridge Pont del Rellotge in Girona was built in 1878 to rescue the Güell river and connect the urban park Parc de la Devesa with the Ramon Folch Avenue. The bridge was operational for 85 years, until 1963. Then it was determined that the structure was too limited to hold the increasingly growing road traffic. After removing it, the bridge was carried in one piece to the town of Palamòs, where one can still walk over it as of today.

Extremadura was also gifted with an Eiffel railway bridge, in fact one of the most distinctive ones: The viaduct of Garrovillas de Alconétar. Unfortunately, this bridge was demolished in 1932. Nowadays, we only have a viaduct just metres away from where the former one used to be, which can only be seen in photographs.

The architect also left the railway bridge of El Hacho, in Granada. This is, indeed, one of the largest metal viaducts created by the Eiffel school in Spain. Founded in 1898, the peculiarity of El Hacho’s bridge is that it doesn’t have any screws; it’s attached by overlaying metal moulds instead. In the past it connected Alamedilla and Guadahortuna, but currently it’s not used for transit. Luckily enough, El Hacho’s citizens secured its preservation.

Other bridges

Apart from the railway bridges, Eiffel also designed other types of bridges and walkways in major cities such as Girona. Even though his works still relied heavily on functionality, sometimes he placed more value on their aesthetic aspect. For this reason, one of Girona’s most iconic pictures encompasses the river topped by a great red metal walkway. This bridge was designed by Eiffel and its construction ended in 1877. It stands seven metres above the river Oñar and, even if it’s been remodelled and paved a couple of times over the years, it still keeps the core essence of the French school.

The view of a river crossed by a red bridge, colourful houses on both sides

One of Girona’s most iconic pictures, with Eiffel’s red bridge. | Shutterstock

Nevertheless, Eiffel didn’t just work in the North of Spain; he designed other bridges such as the bridge called Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes) in Córdoba, whose name comes from the three metal semicircles in the central walkway. The bridge goes over the river Guadalquivir, next to the city Villa del Río, and it currently passes over the road A-3101 as well.

Train stations

Eiffel’s obsession with trains led him to design some of the most prominent train stations at the time. There are many structures, such as the train station of Atocha in Madrid, that drew inspiration from his work. Among those that really were conceived by the French architect’s mind, the most important ones are the canopy of the train station in Donostia-San Sebastián, and Portbou’s train station.

The train station of Donostia-San Sebastián has the most traffic in the whole North and, even if it wasn’t actually designed by Eiffel, he was commissioned to build the famous red canopy above the rail tracks. This structure, just as any other creation of the engineer, stands out for its composition made of straight lines and metal blocks.

The inside of a train station

Portbou’s train station. | Shutterstock

The second station is located in Portbou, a little town in the north-east of Catalonia, just in the border with France. It’s an oval structure that encompasses the whole length of the train station and combines stained glass with metal structures —shocking, I know. This way, the building benefits from having both resistance, strength and natural light.

A market in Las Palmas

It might come as a surprise, but not every piece Eiffel designed in Spain was train-related. It was precisely in Gran Canaria where the architect left one of his most iconic creations. We’re talking here, of course, about El Mercado del Puerto (The Harbour’s Market) in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

This building, with a large, long interior space and arcades made of metal bars in the modernist style, was formerly used to sell fresh products. Nowadays, it has been declared a Cultural Heritage site and it’s common to see terraces and sales stands throughout the famous arcades.

A marketplace, with flower stands

The market in Las Palmas. | Shutterstock

La Casa del Cura

Even though Gustave Eiffel’s architecture stood out for its large astounding metal structures, he could also work with other architectural styles. A good example of that is La Casa del Cura (The Priest’s House), located in Ulea, Murcia.

In this case, the building’s greatest peculiarity lies in the story behind its construction. For years, Eiffel visited Ulea’s hot springs as a way to treat his rheumatism. He fell in love with the place, and eventually his close friend José Ríos Torrecillas asked him to design a residence. Currently, it’s better known as La Casa del Cura or Casa Parisina (Parisian House), and it has three floors and an eye-catching modernist pink facade. The priest of Ulea lives there as well. All in all, it’s a fact that Eiffel was capable of anything he set his mind to.

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