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SPAIN: The Valle de los Caidos



Paul Preston tells me "You are wrong if you think that there was nothing vindictive about the building of the Valle de los Caídos or that it was originally intended for the dead of both sides. Not until the 1960s were any Republicans buried there, and the numbers are tiny by comparison with the Nationalists for whom it was originally intended.

From Chapter 14

Hostility between the Church and the Falange echoed that between the Army and the Falange. Despite these internal tensions there is little to suggest that the Caudillo had any significant worries for the future. On 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 colossal monument to those who had fallen in his cause during the Civil War. It was indicative of his self-regard that, like the Pharoahs, he could think in terms of a monument on a scale that would defy posterity. After a victory lunch at the Madrid Capitanía General, at which Doña Carmen was seated between the German and Italian Ambassadors, the Caudillo led a cavalcade of cars to Cuelgamuros in the Guadarrama Valley near El Escorial. When members of his cabinet, Falangist leaders, senior generals and members of the diplomatic corps were assembled, Colonel Valentín Galarza, Franco's under-secretary of the Presidencia del Gobierno, read a decree announcing the construction of the monument, to be known as the Valle de los Caídos (valley of the fallen). After setting off the first charge of dynamite, Franco addressed the company on the magnitude of what he planned.

The decree announcing the foundation of the monument, dated 1 April 1940, vividly revealed Franco's megalomaniac thoughts about his own place in history: 'The dimension of our Crusade, the heroic sacrifices involved in the victory and the far-reaching significance which this epic has had for the future of Spain cannot be commemorated by the simple monuments by which the outstanding events of our history and the glorious deeds of Spain's sons are normally remembered in towns and villages. The stones that are to be erected must have the grandeur of the monuments of old, which defy time and forgetfulness...' The imposing valley of Cuelgamuros, in the Sierra de Guadarrama to the north-east of Madrid, with its gigantic granite outcrops, was found by Franco himself only after a careful search for exactly what he wanted in terms of natural grandeur.[1]

The basic architectural notion was Franco's and in the course of the monument's construction, he would sketch out ideas for the architect, Pedro Muguruza. Millán Astray suggested that architecture was Franco's secret vocation, having designed various buildings for the Legion.[2] Muguruza's task was to produce a monument that would link Franco's era to that of the Catholic Kings, to Charles V and to Philip II. It was originally envisaged that the job would take twelve months. In the event, it was to take two decades and become, after hunting, Franco's greatest personal obsession. It was said that the Valle de los Caídos became the nearest thing in Franco's life to 'another woman'. The gigantic work fell to captured Republicans who had escaped the executioner.

Franco's belief that the 'crimes' of the Republicans could be 'redeemed by work' was behind the creation in the 1940s, of 'penal detachments' and 'labour battalions' of captive Republicans used as forced labour in the construction of dams, bridges, and irrigation canals. In the course of the construction of the monument, twenty thousand were employed, and fourteen died, along with many who lost limbs in accidents or were afflicted with silicosis. It took nearly twenty years to dig the 850 foot long basilica, to construct the monastery, carved into the hillside of the Valle de Cuelgamuros and to erect the immense cross which towered five hundred feet above it. The arms of the cross were the width of two saloon cars. It cost Spain almost as much as had Philip II's Escorial in a more prosperous era.[3]

From Chapter 25:

The question of the Caudillo's mortality was raised directly by an event which gave him intense satisfaction. The official inauguration of the Valle de los Caídos on 1 April 1959, the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War, was an occasion to rival the 1939 victory celebrations. The entire cabinet, the Procuradores of the Cortes, the full membership of the Consejo Nacional, representatives of all regime institutions, military and civilian authorities from every province, two Cardinals and a large panoply of archbishops and bishops, and the diplomatic corps filled the huge basilica. The Generalísimo, in the uniform of a Captain-General, and Doña Carmen, dressed in black with a mantilla and high comb, walked up the centre aisle under a canopy to their special thrones near the high altar. Thousands of workers were given a day off with pay and a packed lunch and coaches brought them to Cuelgamuros free of charge.[4]

The construction had cost the equivalent of £200,000,000.[5] His speech, about the heroism of 'our fallen' in defence of 'our lines', was triumphant and vengeful. He gloated over the enemy that had been obliged 'to bite the dust of defeat' and showed not the slightest trace of desire to see reconciliation between Spaniards. The controlled press described the inauguration as the culmination of his victory in 1939.[6] If not before, certainly by the time of inauguration, Franco was talking about himself being buried in the basilica. Diego Méndez, the architect who replaced Muguruza on the latter's death, assuming that this was what Franco wanted, was planning a tomb on the opposite side of the great altar from José Antonio's, sited so that the deceased Caudillo 'would be the master of the house, who receives others into his home'.Bueno, Méndez, y en su día yo aquí, ¿eh?' (when the time comes, me here).[7]

  1. ABC, 1, 2, 3 April 1940; Sueiro, Valle, p.12
  2. Millán Astray, Franco, pp.11-12.
  3. Sueiro, Valle, pp.8-24, 44-73, 118-43, 184-205. On the psychological significance of the monument, see Grau, 'Psicopatolgía', p.22.
  4. The Times, 2 April 1959.
  5. Franco, Discursos 1955-1959, pp.625-6.
  6. Arriba, 2 April 1959; Franco, Discursos 1955-1959, pp.593-9.
  7. Sueiro, El Valle de los Caídos, pp.208-9.

RH: I repeat, I am absolutely sure that at the time a statement as issued saying that the monument was to commemorate the losses on both sidea. I have no means of retrieving that document now, but at the time I was struck by the evenhandedness of the plan. Clearly when work began that was forgotten. The question I asked concerned the numbers on each side, and Paul has answered that. Perhaps the statement I read was put out to fool foreigners critical of Franco and his regime.

Ronald Hilton - 7/31/03


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