The Spanish Civil War

We have already submitted our absentee ballots for this week’s United States mid-term election. If we have our way, the result will begin to heal the animosity and expanding divisions in our nation’s politics. Here in the capital of Spain, recent history recalls a time when this nation was so deeply divided that it lost all civility.

Cotelo Monument

Monument to assassinated Civil War figure José Calvo Sotelo, Madrid

In 1936, Spain’s left and right came out of their respective corners and began killing each other in the Spanish Civil War. On the left was the liberal democratic government, and on the right was the ultra-conservative nationalist rebellion led by General Francisco Franco.

Hitler, Musolini & Franco

L-R: Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco (photo in the public domain)

Franco desired an authoritarian regime, and supported the Spanish monarchy and Catholic Church. His efforts were well-organized and backed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Fascist Italy.

Siege of Madrid

Bombing of Madrid (photo: Juan Miguel Pando Barrero)

Hitler and Mussolini were eager to experiment with their new aerial bombing technologies, and Franco was happy to oblige. During the Siege of Madrid the Germans carried out one of the first aerial bombardments on civilians in the history of warfare.


Picasso’s “Guernica” in the town of Guernica (original in Reina Sophia Museum)

On Franco’s order, German and Italian aircraft again targeted civilians in the Basque town of Guernica. In his famous painting “Guernica”, Pablo Picasso depicts the horrors of this atrocious saturation bombing of a residential center.

Victory Arch

Madrid and Franco’s Victory Arch (photo taken from Faro de Moncloa)

After nearly three years of fighting, Franco and the Nationalists finally captured Madrid and declared victory. Franco installed himself as dictator and ruled Spain for the next 36 years, until his death in 1975.

Valley of Fallen

Darkness descends on the Valley of the Fallen

In the process and aftermath of the war, Franco’s “cleansing of leftism” included the executions of approximately 200,000 civilians and government sympathizers. To honor the soldiers and civilians that died as a result of the war, Franco constructed the monumental Valley of the Fallen as a “national act of atonement”.

Franco grave

Franco’s grave inside the Basilica at Valley of the Fallen (photo: S. Sánchez)

We paid a visit to the Valley of the Fallen memorial to see the world’s tallest cross atop a massive basilica tunneled into of the granite mountainside. Ironically, of the 40,000 victims buried here, the only one that did not die in the war is Franco himself.


Fascists at Valley of the Fallen in July 2018 (photo: Javier Soriano/AFP)

Today, Valley of the Fallen is a pilgrimage site for fascists and other ultra-conservatives, and has become one of Spain’s most controversial places. As a result, the current socialist government voted this year to remove Franco’s remains from the memorial, and relocate them to a less contentious location.

VOF Cross

World’s tallest (500-foot) memorial cross in the Valley of the Fallen

Here in Madrid, the scars of the divisive Spanish Civil War remain more than 40 years after the death of Franco. This shows that political acrimony can turn neighbors into enemies, and lead to unimaginable atrocities. In light of this recent historical example, let’s stop screaming at our TVs, and go vote!

Video of man painting Franco’s grave in protest on October 31, 2018. We visited the site just two days later. (source: La Opinion)


13 thoughts on “The Spanish Civil War

    • Thanks, Deepa. It is startling to see how powerful hatred can be, and how quickly it can turn friends into enemies. We are all in this world together and have the right to our own opinions, but disagreements shouldn’t lead to such loathing. We all have so much in common, and should really try harder to accept one another.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Agree completely Joe. I feel the common ordinary people have no issues in living together in harmony. But then that doesn’t go well with the hidden political agendas of the biggies and that is where all the issues start.
        Growing up I used to be supporter of the socialist movement. I thought that was the best way to reform this world. But then now I see that the agendas have changed and the purpose lost. I had tears reading George Orwell’s The Animal Farm because that is how this movement has changed over time.. sad!
        Nevertheless there is hope because common ordinary people know to love and respect each other.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Eric, I know you are very familiar with many historical examples where countries have gone to war over differences in political ideology. Since Esther and I have been learning about the Spanish Civil War while here in Madrid, I thought it would serve as a timely reminder to us Americans to stand up and vote. Let’s hope that the results help to unify us rather than further split us up. All the best to you and Jacqo!


    • It sure is easy to forget, Ann. Maybe this is why they say that history repeats itself. I know it is a stretch for me to compare the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War with our own political situation, but it never hurts to offer a friendly reminder.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I had no about the Valley of the Fallen’s current draw for extremists. So Spain is grappling with the same things happening in other European countries. That’s really too bad, but of course it’s happening here also. Good on you for taking care of your absentee ballot, Joe. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is very regrettable, Marty. Populism, nationalism, extremism (and a few more choice -isms) seem to be rapidly expanding in many parts of the world. I think that social media is partly to blame. It is now easier than ever for radical groups to get their message out, organize their followers, and rev up their dissent. It does take a little planning to vote while traveling, but we would never miss the opportunity to register our preferences, especially now. All the best – Joe


  2. Nice piece. The Valley of the Fallen was part of the tour when we were in Spain. It’s an impressive edifice, but I gotta admit I wasn’t really comfortable there. The whole Fascist/Nazi/jackboot authoritarianism thing gives me the creepy crawlies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Creepy for sure, Dave. I felt like I was inside a Fascist’s oversized ego. It was impressive to see, but I was happy when it was time to leave. I support the government’s efforts to remove Franco, do a remodel, and focus the memorial on the victims instead of the ruthless dictator.


    • When we visited two days after the defacing of Franco’s grave, it was all cleaned up and covered in flowers. I also noted that there were security people close by. The gutsy painter had a full minute before he was apprehended.

      Liked by 1 person

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