Tag Archives: General Franco

Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

The route from Manzanares Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime – the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen is a shallow green natural basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.

For almost forty years until his death on 20th November 1975 the Generalíssimo was someone that Spaniards could not escape from.  He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is claimed to be the largest in the World.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless concrete esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built partly by using Republican prisoners as labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists.

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 the left-leaning government, which has been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, has had an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manages the building, suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the cross and compromise some of the sculptures. These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November old hard-line Francoists attend a religious ceremony at the monument in his memory, which is really a massive political rally, and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We had read that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside anyway and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road.

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.

Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities were anticipating extra trouble this year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly guards were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.

A Year in a Life – 20th November, Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

The route from Manzanares Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime – the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen is a shallow green natural basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.

For almost forty years until his death on 20th November 1975 the Generalíssimo was someone that Spaniards could not escape from.  He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is claimed to be the largest in the World.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless concrete esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built partly by using Republican prisoners as labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists.

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 the left-leaning government, which has been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, has had an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manages the building, suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the cross and compromise some of the sculptures. These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November old hard-line Francoists attend a religious ceremony at the monument in his memory, which is really a massive political rally, and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We had read that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside anyway and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road.

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.

Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities were anticipating extra trouble this year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly guards were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.

General Franco and the Valle de los Caídos

According to the Spanish Newspaper El Pais there was violence and moments of high tension this morning at the Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen) which is an embarrassing memorial to the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  Francoist hard-liners, skin heads and neo-Nazis attempted to access the monument for the traditional annual remembrance service on the anniversary of the Generalísimo’s death in 1975 but were stopped by riot police and officers of the Guardia Civil.

I mention this because only a week ago I was in Spain at this very place and unadvisedly tried to visit this place.

The route from Manzanares Real to El Escorial took us to the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range and directly past one of the few remaining reminders of the Franco regime, the Valle de los Caídos.  The Valley of the Fallen, is a shallow green basin tucked into the folds of the mountain about fifty kilometres north of central Madrid.  It is the controversial last resting place of the dictator General Francisco Franco who conceived this place for himself out of his own arrogance and conceit.  For almost forty years the Generalísimo was someone that Spaniards could not escape from. He was there in school books, church prayers, statues, plaques, street names and thousands of other reminders of a violent insurrection that led to a vicious civil war.  Now though his face and name are being erased from public view and even the army, where nostalgia for the dictator survived long after his death in 1975, has pledged to remove all plaques, statues and monuments to the regime of a man it once revered.

From the entrance gate there is a five kilometre drive to the monument on a road that passes through lush vegetation of tall pines punctuated by a scattering of oak, ilex and poplar trees and which passes over a couple of elegant stone bridges and at the top is the most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to have been erected in western Europe.  A huge blue-grey granite cross soars one hundred and fifty metres into the sky which on a clear day can be seen from the centre of Madrid and no wonder because it is supposed to be the largest in Europe.  Below the cross are a series of arches overlooking a wide featureless esplanade and beyond the galleries is the entrance to the basilica through two modest bronze doors.

The floor is made of granite and black marble and above it there is an interior dome lined in gold mosaic.  The basilica is longer than St Peter’s in Rome and almost as high and is built to dimensions that matched the mountainous ego of its creator.  Officially it is a war memorial in remembrance of all those who perished in the Spanish civil war and a symbol of forgiveness and peace but the monument has never actually managed to achieve this worthy status because it was built using Republican prisoners as labourers and the grim intimidating monument has always been seen rather as a symbol of the victory of the Nationalists.

Today the monument is an embarrassment to the State and successive Spanish governments have agonised over what to do with it.  Since 2004 the left-leaning government, which has been following a policy of the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, has had an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco’s rule.  

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional, who manage the building suddenly and controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, citing as a reason deterioration and preservation issues which may affect the Cross and compromise some of the sculptures. These allegations have been contested by technical experts and the religious community that lives in the complex, and had been seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument, an opinion reinforced when in 2010 the Pieta sculpture group started to be ‘dismantled’ with hammers and heavy machinery.

Every year on the first Saturday after the 20th November, the day of the death of Franco, old hard-line Fracoists attend a religious ceremony, which is really a political rally, at the monument in his memory and this annual gathering of fascists is also an embarrassment to the government and to most of modern Spain.

We knew that the monument was closed but the gate was open so we swung inside and pulled up beside the pay kiosk at the entrance where a middle aged lady explained that the monument wasn’t open and we should leave.  I followed some cars and drove on expecting to find a turning point but after a kilometre it was obvious there wasn’t one and the cars we were following were authorised to be there so I did a three point turn instead next to two vertical granite columns at either side of the road. 

What we hadn’t known about was the significance of the 20th November and being only a week away this must have been making the people on the gate a bit nervous because as we drove down we passed the woman from the kiosk who was pursuing us in a red Seat and who waved frantically to us as we drove by.  Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies in October 2007 and it seems that the authorities are anticipating extra trouble this year in response to the closure of the monument and back at the gate two burly Civil Guard were shaking their heads and giving disapproving grimaces.  I gave my best socialist smile and made pathetic gestures of apology but then left as quickly as possible and rejoined the road to El Escorial where we hoped we might be made to feel more welcome.

Benidorm, The War of the Bikini

“It was not only in Farol that brusque changes were taking place…they were happening at a breakneck pace all over Spain…. Roads, the radio, the telephone and now the arrival of tourists… were putting an end to the Spain of old.  And for those who wanted to see it as it had been, there was not a moment to be lost.”                                                                                                                                           Norman Lewis ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

If Pedro Zaragoza Orts is remembered for the Beni-York skyscraper he is even more famous for the so called ‘War of the Bikini’.  In the later years of the 1950s the icon of holiday liberty was the saucy two piece swimsuit but in staunchly religious Spain, still held in the firm two-handed grip of church and state, this scanty garment was seen as a threat to the very basis of Catholic society.   According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion.  Plenty of fallout and very hot!

And it certainly had this effect in Spain and although occasionally allowable on the sandy beaches, it had to be covered up in all other areas; on the promenades and in the plazas and in the shops and the bars and cafés for fear of causing any offence.  In one famous incident, a British tourist, sitting in a bar opposite a beach wearing only a bikini, was told by a Guardia Civil officer that she wasn’t allowed to wear it there.  After an argument she hit him, and her strike for social justice cost her a hefty fine of forty thousand pesetas.  Zaragoza needed tourists and tourists wanted the bikini and with more northern European tourists arriving each year in search of an all over suntan the Mayor knew that the banning of the two piece swimsuit simply couldn’t be sustained or allowed to threaten his ambitious plans.

Zaragoza took a gamble and signed a municipal order which permitted the wearing of the bikini in public areas and in this single act he effectively jump started the Spanish tourist industry.  Zaragoza said: “People had to feel free to be able to wear what they wanted, within reason, if it helped them to enjoy themselves as they would come back and tell their friends about the place.”  In deeply religious Catholic Spain not everyone was so understanding or welcoming of the bikini however and in retaliation the Archbishop of Valencia began the excommunication process against him.

Excommunication was a serious matter in 1959 and his political supporters began to abandon him so one day he got up early and drove for nine hours on a little Vespa scooter to Madrid to lobby Franco himself.  The Generalissimo was suitably impressed with his determination and gave him his support, Zaragoza returned to Benidorm and the Church backed down and the approval of the bikini became a defining moment in the history of modern Spain ultimately changing the course of Spanish tourism and causing a social revolution in an austere country groaning under the yoke of the National Catholic regime.  Zaragoza went on to become Franco’s Director of Tourism and a Parliamentary Deputy.

Not many people would have described Franco as a liberalising social reformer and perhaps he just liked to look at ladies breasts but not long after this lots of women on holiday in Benidorm dispensed with the bikini bra altogether and brazenly sunbathed topless and Benidorm postcards had pictures of naked ladies on them to prove it.

One thing I am certain of is that this wouldn’t have made a great deal of difference to my Nan because I am not sure that she ever possessed a swimming costume, never mind a two-piece!  She was a bit old-fashioned and the human body in the naked form was only permitted behind closed doors with the curtains closed and preferably after dark.  If she ever went in the sea I imagine it would have been in one of those Victorian one piece bathing costumes of the previous century.  Grandad too wasn’t one for showing bits of his body normally kept under his bus conductor’s dark blue uniform and didn’t even concede to a pair of shorts, preferring instead to wear his colonial style slacks even during the day.  When he came home his impressive suntan stopped at the line of his open neck shirt and his rolled up sleeves.

For people who had never been abroad before Benidorm must have been an exciting place in the early 1960s.  Palm fringed boulevards, Sangria by the jug full and, unrestrained by optics, generous measures of whiskey and gin, rum and vodka.  Eating outside at a pavement café and ordering drinks and not paying for them until leaving and scattering unfamiliar coins on the table as a tip for the waiter.  There was permanent sunshine, a delightful warm sea and unfamiliar food, although actually I seem to doubt that they would be introduced to traditional Spanish food on these holidays because to be fair anything remotely ethnic may have come as shock because like most English people they weren’t really ready for tortilla and gazpacho, tapas or paella.  They certainly didn’t return home to experiment with any new Iberian gastronomic ideas and I suspect they probably kept as close as they could to food they were familiar with.

Benidorm is a fascinating place, often unfairly maligned or sneered at but my grandparents liked it and I have been there myself in 1977 for a fortnight’s holiday and then again on a day trip in 2008 just out of curiosity.  It has grown into a mature and unique high rise resort with blue flag beaches and an ambition to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status and I hope it achieves it.  You can read about those trips at:

Benidorm 1977 – First impressions and the Hotel Don Juan

Benidorm 1977- Beaches, the Old Town and Peacock Island

Benidorm 1977 – Food Poisoning and Guadalest

Benidorm – The Anticipation

Benidorm – The Surprise

Thanks to http://www.realbenidorm.net/ for the use of the postcard image

 

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