I decided to revise my knowledge of Spanish history, so I bought the Ghosts of Spain written by historian Giles Tremlett. One morning during my daily commute to work I was reading about El Valle de los Caidos (the Valley of the Fallen), I hadn’t heard of this before. The book stated its location and I was stunned that it was located in the sierra of Guadaramma, very close to the Catholic school where I work, I had always wandered why it was there. It is 150-metre tall granite cross, located along a beautiful stretch of the sierra. Ostensibly erected to commemorate those who had died during Spain’s bloody clash of ideology; it is the biggest and most recent piece of fascist monumental architecture in Europe, Franco’s self proclaimed masterpiece. Beneath the cross is a dome shaped burial site of 40,000 deceased from both sides, lavishly decorated with gold mosaic and black marble.
The disturbing thing about this grandiose monument is that this is also where the remains of dictator Francisco lie, and that many bodies of los ‘vencidos’ (the defeated) are buried in countless roadside graves in Madrid’s afueras, forgotten without a trace. Campaigners put the figure at 100,000 unrecovered bodies from the civil war. A further controversy being that an estimated 20,000 workers who constructed the monument were Republican prisoners, intent on reducing their sentences. Mayoress of Poyales del Hoyo Damiana González insists the monument remains a symbol of forgiveness and peace between two bitterly opposed identities of Spain’s past.
It is officially regarded as a depoliticised memorial, but there is still the contention of whether it should be demolished, or whether it should be maintained as a vital piece of Spain’s heritage, a historical lesson, allowing them to never return to their twisted past. One things for certain, Franco wanted a conspicuous and imposing presence in an attempt to cement his legacy, fortunately with the populations swift transition to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, this wasn’t possible.