After Madrid, we drove the 50km out along the manic motorway system to the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to find Valle de los Caídos, or the Valley of the Fallen.
Short history lesson: Spain had a civil war between 1936 and 1939. The war ended when the general and politician Francisco Franco seized power and became a military dictator that lasted until his natural death in 1975. Franco formed a fascist regime that included all the trappings such as forced labour, executions in the concentration camps. It is estimated that 400,000 died under his rule.
The Valley of the Fallen is one of Franco’s biggest statements. It is a monumental basilica carved into the rock with an impressive structure framing the entrance with a cross which is 152.4m made of stone tall on the hill above the basilica. The dimensions of this underground basilica, as excavated, are larger than those of St Peters Basilica in Rome. To avoid competition with the apostle’s grave church on the Vatican Hill, a partitioning wall was built near the inside of the entrance and a sizeable entryway was left unconsecrated. Under the valley floor lie the remains of 40,000 people, both Nationalist and Republican, who died in the Civil War and whose names are accounted for in the monument’s register.
It is also the place of where Franco is (currently) buried. He is the only person currently buried there who didn’t die in the Civil War.
The site is controversial in Spain because it is difficult to separate the civil war monument from Franco, especially as he is still buried there and people leave fresh flowers are on his grave. We were a little worried that we shouldn’t visit, as some claim that the monument is “like a Nazi concentration camp”, however we decided to visit on the basis that the monument is for the memory of all the victims of the Civil War.
The road to the monument takes you up a long winding road through the woods. The cross is visible from some distance away but it is not until you park and walk closer you can really appreciate the scale of the cross and the building.
After experiencing the monument from outside we entered the Basilica. The size and scale come again as another surprise as you walk down the long passage to the main seating and alter. It is very dark and at first it seems plain in design until you notice the carvings and paintings recessed into the wall at intervals. The main area has an impressive domed roof with paintings and under this in front of the alter is Franco’s grave which had many fresh flowers on it. As it is a religious building there are no photos allowed inside.
The exhumation of the remains of Franco to the cemetery where his wife is buried will take place on 10 June 2019. This is subject to the Supreme Court not issuing a precautionary order preventing the exhumation until a decision for those appeals of the Franco family and Benedictine Community has been made.
After the obligatory stop at the gift shop, cafe and toilets we headed for Avila our next stop.
On the mountain road we came across the Mirador “Ángel Nieto” a tribute to the great 12 + 1 MotoGP champion, Ángel Nieto. This was opened on 15 September 2018 and is also a tribute to victims of road accidents symbolised by the red ‘V’ on the name of Nieto. As we are both big MotoGP fans we have to stop and pay our respects.