Dec 13, 2009

The Largest Memorial Complex - Valley of the Fallen

The Valle de los Caídos (in English: Valley of the Fallen) is a monumental memorial in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid, conceived by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to honor those who fell during the Spanish Civil War. However, only two names are commemorated— those of José Antonio Primo de Rivera and Franco himself. It was also claimed by Franco that the monument was meant to be a "national act of atonement". As a surviving artifact of Franco's rule, the monument and its Catholic basilica remain controversial, especially due to the manner and circumstances of its construction by political prisoners. The complex is owned and operated by the Patrimonio Nacional agency.

Valley of the Fallen

The valley that contains the monument, preserved as a national park, is located 10 km northeast of the royal site of El Escorial, northwest of Madrid. Beneath the valley floor lie the remains of 40,000, whose names are accounted for in the monument's register.

Although the valley contains both Nationalist and Republican graves – several former Republicans' bodies were moved there from temporary graves at the end of the war – the tone of the monument is distinctly Nationalist and anti-Communist, containing the inscription "¡Caídos por Dios y por España!" ("Fallen for God and Spain!"), reflecting the close ties of Franco's Nationalist regime to the Catholic Church.

Additionally, Franco's timing of his announcement of the decision to create the monument left no doubts: on 1 April 1940, the day of the victory parade to celebrate the first anniversary of his triumph over the Republic, Franco announced his personal decision to raise a splendid monument to those who had fallen in his cause.

Today, Spain's Socialist Government has been debating plans to re-designate the Valley of the Fallen a "monument to Democracy" or as a memorial to all Spaniards killed in conflict "for Democracy" (believed to mean only the Republican side). Other political organizations, among them centrist Catholic groups, believe that the monument is already dedicated to all of the dead, civilian and military of both Nationalist and Republican sides.

Franco's tomb

In 1975, after Franco's death, the site was designated by the interim government as the burial place for the Caudillo, who actually did not desire to be buried in the valley, but in Madrid. Unlike the fallen of the Civil War who were laid to rest in the valley exterior to the basilica, Franco was buried inside the church. His grave is marked by a simple tombstone engraved with his name, on the choir side of the main altar (between the altar and the apse of the Church; behind the altar, from the perspective of a person standing at the main door).

Franco was the second person buried in the Santa Cruz basilica. Franco had earlier interred José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, the Spanish fascist party that aided his ascension to power, under a modest gravestone on the nave side of the altar. Primo de Rivera died November 20, 1936, exactly 39 years before Franco, whose grave is on the exact opposite side of the altar.

Today, the Valle de los Caídos is a popular tourist site and every year, on the closest Saturday following November 20, the site is marked by memorial celebrations by Franco's nostalgic supporters and Falange activists.

Controversy in construction

"The work of construction itself was undertaken by the forced labour of 20,000 Republican prisoners, fourteen of whom were killed and many more injured; it was intended that through such work prisoners would have the opportunity to "redeem themselves". The motto used by the Spanish Nationalist government was "el trabajo enoblece" "work ennobles". Nevertheless, the use of convict labor to build the basilica and cross has been controversial. According to the project records, no more than 2,000 workers participated directly in the construction, some of them highly skilled, as required by the complexity of the work. These convicts at the workplace included those convicted of political crimes. A 1940 Spanish law recognized the possibility of "redeeming" two days of conviction for each working day. This benefit was increased to six days when labour was carried out at the basilica.



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