On 15th August 1864, the Ormaiztegi viaduct was inaugurated, which connected the northern railway line linking Madrid and Paris. The Zumalakarregi Museum offers guided tours of the viaduct by prior reservation.
For years, the bridge was thought to be the work of the well-known Gustave Eiffel: yet another reason for the locals to be proud of the town, in addition to the personality of General Zumalakarregi. Later, historical studies revealed that it was built by the engineer Alexander Lavalley, Eiffel's predecessor.
Thousands of Basques worked on the construction of the railway line under the direction of French engineers, and the material and machinery also came from France. 600 workers from Piedmont, specialised in the construction of tunnels in the Franco-Italian Alps, worked on this section. It is the most important work on the Madrid-Paris route, with a difference in level of 289 m long and 34 m high.
With 18,000 tons supported on four pillars, this engineer was able to create a wide, comfortable, light and very safe bridge with his masterful use of iron, a construction material that was new at the time and which proved to be revolutionary in terms of the possibilities it offered. This viaduct is one of the elements that contributed to the disappearance of that traditional world, being the most daring iron construction of its time.
High strategic value
There is no work in the whole of the Basque Country that, in terms of its technical characteristics or its historical importance, is comparable to this iron architecture, admired by locals and foreigners alike. The most admirable part is not in sight but underground. The foundations of the 20-metre-long pillars and the calculation of forces stand out from other bridges of the time.
Its strategic value is enormous, which is why wars have been its main enemy. During the Second Carlist War of 1872-1876, the Beasain station was set on fire, but the Ormaiztegi viaduct was only slightly damaged. Peacetime brought improvements.
The double track was installed in 1912 and it was electrified in 1928. During the Spanish Civil War, the workers of Altos Hornos de Bergara cut the bridge with blowtorches to prevent the advance of Franco's troops. Franco's troops arrived the next day and shot them against the wall of the cemetery next to the bridge. For its reconstruction, it was reinforced in 1941 with the concrete pillars that make up its current appearance.
For years, it was thought
that the bridge was the work
of the famous Gustave Eiffel
New viaduct in 1995
After 131 years of continuous use, when the railway traffic is a hundred times higher than what was foreseen when it was built, it has been replaced by another one, which does not mean that the old bridge is in a ruinous state. The new viaduct was inaugurated in 1995 next to the old one and the old one stopped working.
The Zumalakarregi Museum and Ormaiztegi Town Council are working to recover and conserve the material heritage and preserve the historical memory of the viaduct. Among other tasks, the Zumalakarregi Museum offers guided tours of the viaduct by prior reservation. It is a great opportunity to discover the secrets hidden in this marvel of nineteenth-century architecture.
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