The Palace of Fernán Núñez in the 20th Century

The Palace continued to evolve, from the Civil War to its use as the headquarters for the Spanish Railways Foundation (Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles).

By Spanish Railways Foundation

Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles

Galería de Columnas by Photo: Federico PárezSpanish Railways Foundation

The Palace of Fernán Núñez is one of the most significant and best preserved buildings of romantic, Isabelline Madrid. During the 20th century, it underwent numerous refurbishments, as well as repurposing, following its confiscation during the Civil War. It was sold in 1941, transitioning from Palace-Residence to Railway Headquarters.

Fernán Núñez Family Portrait (1920-04-15)Spanish Railways Foundation

The family of Fernán Núñez in 1920: The 4th Dukes of Fernán Núñez with their children. The eldest, Manuel Falcó y Álvarez de Toledo, inherited the, becoming the 5th Duke of Fernán Núñez in 1927.

Gala Dinning Room (1920-04-15)Spanish Railways Foundation

Refurbishments at the Palace

In the first quarter of the 20th century, the palace underwent two significant refurbishments. During the first, when the 3rd Duchess of Fernán Núñez commissioned the architect Valentín Roca Carbonell, the room known as La Logia was retiled, the banister on the main staircase was renewed, and pilasters and other decorative elements were added to the facade and in other areas.

Yellow Room view containing a Jean Baptiste Creuze Portrait (1920-04-15)Spanish Railways Foundation

In 1923, Silvia Álvarez de Toledo, 4th Duchess Consort, moved the Tapestry Room to the second floor and transformed the duchess' office into the Charles IV Room. In 1920, the journal La Voluntad published an article with period images of the palace.

Duke and Duchess of Fernán Núñez's room (1920-04-15)Spanish Railways Foundation

The main focus of the dukes' bedroom, a private space, was the sumptuous, canopied bed.

JSU's Militants (1937)Original Source: Documentation Center of Historical Memory

The Palace during the Civil War

In 1936, the palace was owned by the 5th Duke of Fernán Núñez, Manuel Falcó Álvarez de Toledo, and his wife Mercedes de Anchorena y Uriburu. When Civil War broke out, they were living in Paris. Manuel Falcó returned to Spain to join the Nationalists. He died on December 8 of that year in a trench on Garabitas hill in the Casa de Campo in Madrid.

JSU's Militants at the Ball Room (1937)Original Source: Documentation Center of Historical Memory

The palace was left unoccupied, and in July 1936 it was seized by the Unified Socialist Youth (Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas), who converted it into a base for their Youth Home Andrés Martín, and for Radio 4, a territorial organization corresponding to the central region. The palace was also used as a site of repression, housing a detention center known as checa no. 183.

Detail view from the Ball Room (1937) by Photo: Aurelio Pérez RiojaOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

In February 1937, faced with regular bombing in the region, the Deputy Commission for the Expropriation, Safeguarding, and Rescue of Artistic Treasures (Junta Delegada de Incautación, Protección y Salvamento del Tesoro Artístico) began gathering artworks to be moved to the Commission's storage facility in the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. Other storage facilities were also used from September that year.

Ball Room view from the Musicians Balcony (1937) by Photo: Aurelio Pérez RiojaOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Dance Hall was the main reception room, where the most important events were held. Its decoration excelled in its luxury and theatricality.

Portraits Room, former Tapestry Room (1937) by Photo: Aurelio Pérez RiojaOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Portrait Room, previously the Tapestry Room, in an image from 1923. The portraits, and indeed most of the furnishings, have been removed.

Carlos the 4th Room (1937) by Photo: Aurelio Pérez RiojaOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The Charles IV Room, now the Formal Office of the president of Renfe. The portraits of the 1st Dukes of Fernán Núñez, painted by Goya in 1803, have been removed.

Tapestries detail at the Walnut Staircase (1937) by Photo: Aurelio Pérez RiojaOriginal Source: Cultural Heritage Institute of Spain (IPCE)

The walnut staircase led to the dukes' private rooms. Carved in walnut by Antonio Jorge Rojo, from Madrid, and based on drawings by the Marquis of Cubas, known as the architect to the aristocracy, it was completed in 1875. Its walls were covered with tapestries depicting scenes from Don Quixote.

Story about the Palace (1945)Spanish Railways Foundation

The palace as the headquarters of the Board of Directors of the Spanish national railway network, Renfe

In 1941, with the war over and the palace recovered, the widowed 5th Duchess, Mercedes de Anchorena (on behalf of her youngest son, Manuel Falcó Uriburu, 6th Duke), sold it to the National Company of Railways of Western Spain (Compañía Nacional de los Ferrocarriles del Oeste de España).

Renfe's Management Board (1941)Spanish Railways Foundation

Later that year, Renfe was established following the reunification of all the rail companies. The palace became the property of this new company, and was converted into the headquarters of its Board of Directors. This event proved to be of vital significance for the building's survival, and the reason that it is still standing today.

Events Hall by Photo: Inmaculada García LozanoSpanish Railways Foundation

Renfe commissioned the architect Manuel Cabanyes Mata to remodel the palace for its new purpose. The refurbishments were mainly focused on the first floor of the palace, and the bedroom and service areas.

An elevator was installed in the San Cosme y San Damián area, and the roof of the Othello Gallery was modified, replacing the iron and glass structure.

Events Hall ground Mosaic's detail by Photo: alumnos ESCRBCSpanish Railways Foundation

The resulting space preserved the arbor, an area with typical Roman mosaics which covered the room, and the iron grate for the stove. This image shows detail from the Roman-style mosaic in the palace's arbor, now the Event Hall.

Palace's Garden (1945)Spanish Railways Foundation

The garden underwent very minimal modifications. The stables were converted into garages, and new rooms were added around the fifth courtyard on the site of the old garden, acquired in 1849.

Palace Hallway (1945)Spanish Railways Foundation

During the remodeling, some rooms on the first floor and the service floor were converted into offices and storage areas for the rail company. The rooms on the main floor, and others on lower floors, underwent very minimal modifications.

Main Staircase (1945)Spanish Railways Foundation

The main staircase in the palace, spanned by a basket arch, topped with a Medusa head flanked by laurel branches. Its modernist, iron and bronze handrail was made by Valentín Roca Carbonell. Its main decorative feature is a lyre.

Column Hall (1945)Spanish Railways Foundation

The palace's Column Room is a classical space focused around its four columns.

Francisco Wais and Gustavo RéderSpanish Railways Foundation

The palace houses the first railway museum

In 1965, Renfe created a railway museum using material collected for the exhibitions commemorating the centenaries of the Barcelona-Mataró line in 1948, and the Madrid-Zaragoza and Madrid-Irún lines in 1964. The museum was opened in 1967, in the palace's former greenhouse, evoking the period when the railway arrived in Spain.

A former Railway Museum's room viewSpanish Railways Foundation

In 1967, the first Railway Museum of Spain was inaugurated on the first floor of the palace. It remained there until 1980, at which point it was moved to the historical station at Delicias.

Students group visiting the first Railway MuseumSpanish Railways Foundation

A group of schoolchildren looking at the Andaluces 01 steam locomotive, which ran on the urban railway in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz), journeying past the famous wineries of the area, and transporting wine to El Puerto de Santa María.

Visitors from the 25th edition of the 'Caminos de Hierro' exposition by Photo: Inés TortosaSpanish Railways Foundation

The palace as the headquarters of the Spanish Railways Foundation

In 1985, Renfe and Feve (narrow-gauge railways) created the Spanish Railways Foundation, with its registered offices at the palace. From 2005, when Renfe was divided into Renfe Operadora, for operations, and Adif, for infrastructure, the property was shared by the two companies.

General Course of Transports' class at the Ball Room by Photo: Inés TortosaSpanish Railways Foundation

The Foundation's Board includes representatives of the main companies within the Spanish railways public sector. It is responsible for the recovery, safekeeping, creation, and promotion of the railways' technological, scientific, cultural, and historical heritage.

The railway museums in Madrid and Catalonia, the Historical Archive of the Railways, the Library and Documentation Center for the Railways (CEDIF), as well as the Land Transport Training Center, are reference centers for researchers and users.

Filming ath the Palace by Photo: Pablo García LumbrerasSpanish Railways Foundation

The sumptuous beauty of the palace's decoration have made it a prime location for many movies and television shows, transporting viewers to historical periods, to relive the experiences of other lives and other dreams.

Ball Room current view by Photo: Félix LorrioSpanish Railways Foundation

Want to know more?

Continue reading about the history of this building in the following exhibitions:

- The Palace of Fernán Núñez: Origin and Splendor

The Palace of Fernán Núñez Now
Credits: Story

Coordination: Communication and Cultural Activity Management (FFE) / Texts, documentation, and image selection: Inmaculada García Lozano (FFE) / Digital edition: José Mariano Rodríguez (FFE)

Ana Costa Novillo. Madrid City Council. Museum of History/María Luisa Crespo Rodríguez. Madrid City Council. Department of Culture, Tourism, and Sports Governance. Town Archive/Isabel Argerich and Carlos Teixidor. Photograph collection of the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain. Ministry of Culture and Sports/Susana Romero Martín. Center for Historical Memory Documentation, Salamanca. Ministry of Culture and Sports/Leticia Martínez García. Historical Archive of the Railways (FFE)/Volunteers (FFE): Luisa Atienza Calvo, Pablo García Lumbreras, and Gustavo Martínez Guibelalde.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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