Sunday, February 3, 2008

Kicked out of the Valley of the Fallen! / ¡Expulsado del Valle de los Caidos!


I was in Madrid last weekend. The weather was wonderful! I visited with friends, went to see the newly enlarged Prado, had a great night of dancing at Joy and ate some delicious local food, as well as Asturian and Galician cuisine -- oh, and an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Felipe in the pretty little ski town of Navacerrada. However, one if the most memorable things about the weekend was getting kicked out of the Valley of the Fallen. (El Valle de Los Caidos.)
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The Valley of the Fallen is a national park about 50 kilometres outside of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarama mountains. The valley itself is a lovely place of woods and greenery. However, rising out of this natural beauty is the cold and gray Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen (Basílica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos), which was carved out of a giant granite ridge as an ominous looking monument to the Facists who won the Spanish Civil War. Construction began in 1941 and was completed in 1959.
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Thousands of prisoners, including political prisoners, were forced to work on the site. At least fourteen of these were killed during construction and many others suffered injuries.
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We visited on Friday the 25th, which was a sunny spring-like day. There were hardly any other visitors, so we parked in the near empty lot just beneath the basilica.
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One of the first sites to greet us was an abandoned and tattered looking series of shops -- a souvenir shop, a post office and a cafeteria -- shuutered up with rotted wood, rusted metal and water stained paper.
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Undaunted by this, we walked up the stairs to the giant esplanade that sits in front of the basilica. From here the views of the valley and towns in the distance were fantastic.
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Next we entered the basilica itself, after going through security checkpoints that rivaled anything in international airports. Once inside the hall of the basilica, I felt a little overwhelmed by the literal and atmospheric darkness of the place.
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We walked down the lengthy corridor, which in reality is a tunnel, past foreboding sculptures and grandiloquent tapestries, towards the altar. Once at the front, I separated from the others to walk around.
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In front of the altar I noticed flowers and candles sitting atop a marker that was embedded in the ground. I walked closer and read the name Francisco Franco. So surprised was I by the location of respect that the grave had that without thinking I grimaced, let out a "Yuk!" and stomped one of my feet on the grave.
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Next thing I knew, two furiously gesticulating guards approached saying, "¡Fuera! ¡Fuera! ¡Si no te gusta Franco, fuera!" ("Get out! Get out! If you don't like Franco, get out!") Two of my friends started arguing with the guards, but I had had enough and just wanted to exit that dark hole. So, I convinced them to leave and we walked away from the dinginess surrounding the dictator's tomb towards the sunshine and fresh air.
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Although I have no desire to go there again, perhaps I would if it were converted from merely an ostentatious tribute to one of Mussolini's and Hitler's cohorts into a true memorial about the Spanish Civil War.

4 comments:

Virgi said...

Hi! My name is Virginia and im from Argentina. I just wanted to tell you i really liked your blog and found lots of usefull information (im leaving for europe this friday 8, and our first city is barcelona). well...just that, thanks for all the tips.
saludos!
Virginia
now im thinking maybe i could have written all these in spanish...

Carloz said...

Hola Virginia, Gracias por el mensaje. ¡Que tengas un buen viaje! Un saludo, Carloz

holymole said...

This story about the Valley of the Fallen reminded me of my trip to Madrid in the early '70's when I took an excursion to The Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen. Franco was still in power and I am sure the shops were still open. I remember the Cathedral at the Valley of the Fallen being remarkably cold. I did not know that prisoners were used to build it but it makes perfect sense from how you feel in that place. I felt the same thing walking through Phillip II palace which is dark and foreboding.
Your blog is so interesting and I love your writing style.

Carloz said...

Thanks, Holymole. Perhaps they should bill the Valley of the Fallen as The Place That Just Gets Creepier.