Anyone traveling through Madrid's main Atocha railway station in the last twenty years will remember the beautiful, tropical garden in the station's main concourse. What they might not know is that around 300 turtles have happily taken refuge there.
Basically the tropical garden has now become a welcoming refuge to homeless turtles.
There are many reasons for them being there. Some were brought there because children lost interest in them. Others because for some reason or another they could no longer keep them as pets.
Another major reason is that people might not have been prepared, or able, to pay the 40% ticket price to take the turtle on a train and found a quick solution to the problem.
Whatever the reason for them being there, the station's indoor wetlands have been populated with approximately 300 turtles, giving a little glimpse of nature to passengers passing through the station.
Turtles in the tropical garden at Madrid's Atocha railway station.
The state railway company, Renfe, has employed Aurora Peña to look after the turtles.
She told El País: “We give them animal feed, to make sure they are properly nourished.”
Indicating the turtles, grouped on rocks and other platforms in the water, surrounded by fine white sand, she said: “This is the area we have set aside for them to lay their eggs.”
Explaining that normally turtles living in a tropical sea would head to a remote and protected beach to lay their eggs, and then incubate them, she said that the little expanse of sand in the tropical garden is the closest they will get to a beach in the Spanish capital.
At the last count of the turtles in 2012, when there were 275 animals.
“We take them out one by one, we count them and we tidy them up a bit,” says Peña.
According to Peña, the population has stayed relatively stable over the years. Those that have died have been replaced by people's former pets.
Not a bad place for a turtle to end up these days, and as we can see from the video above, definitely a distraction from the boredom of waiting for your train.
The gardens alone are worth the visit. With over 7,000 plants in neatly manicured garden beds, with some reaching the station's domed ceiling, its like another world in the center of the busy city.
There are reportedly around 260 different tropical species among the plants, and they even include towering palm trees.
Normally a railway station is somewhere you just pass through when on vacation, but Atocha railway station has actually received reviews on Tripadvisor, mainly for its tropical garden and inhabitants.
Below is a night-time view of the garden in Madrid's Atocha railway station:
Evening view of the tropical garden in Atocha railway station, Madrid.