Valley of the Fallen as site of memory

Sitting in my room, bags packed, passports and papers in order, I feel a sense of excitement well inside my chest. Soon I will be en route to Madrid for an important opportunity to participate in field research on the Spanish Civil War. I’ve been to the classes and done my background research, but one can only wonder if I’ve really prepared myself to investigate one of the most famous memorials in Spain: The Valley of the Fallen. I expect that things will go smoothly; I will ask the right questions to our guide, get some answers of who visits the Valley and why, what the symbols and engravings mean, how the Law of Historical Memory affects the Valley. I can’t help but feel nervous. Nervous for my lack of language skills, mainly. Hopefully the gaps in communication left by my broken Spanish will be filled by my expertise in Spanglish, and the rest I’ll leave up to hand signals. Thank goodness for Dictaphones! In all seriousness, my goal is to provide a good base of investigation on the Valley of the Fallen in terms of a site of memory, how recent changes in the Valley effect those who travel to see it as well as how welcome those who were repressed by the Franco regime feel in a place of such pro-Franco atmospheric quality.
My specific project is to investigate “sites of memory” such as monuments and other commemorative places, as well as interpret the newly passed Law of Historical Memory and its relation to these sites. The Law of Historic Memory is a series of new policies passed by Spain’s government to help the people cope with losses and memories of the Spanish Civil War. Written with only the best intentions, it has introduced several controversies to the Spanish people. Jurors are divided over parts of the law that could be seen as producing legal uncertainty. Descendants of activists in the war disagree with some of the laws imposed on them that would restrict political freedom of speech. The Law was created to bring equality to both sides, but there is an issue of polemics concerning whether it is overcompensating for the past transgressions of a government gone awry. In the following paragraphs, I will focus on the articles of the Law of Historical Memory that deal with the Valley of the Fallen. I will discuss how these laws affect the memorial and those that travel to see it. I will then introduce the main question I intend to answer on my trip to the Valley as I explore the connections between collective memory and a physical site: The Valley of the Fallen.
The Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s final resting place, is one of these “sites of memory.” A monument inaugurated by Francisco Franco in 1959 to honor all who died during the Civil War, the Valley of the Fallen has raised many controversies. It is interesting to note that in a monument supposedly dedicated to both sides that fought in the war, the only two names inscribed are the two most important Falangists/fascists of the war: José Antonio Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco. Furthermore, Franco’s seal, a double-headed eagle, is obviously displayed on the wrought-iron gates at the entrance to the memorial. An inscription reading “Fallen for God and Spain!” adds to the Nationalist tone of the monument. In addition to this, demonstrations and a mass have been held until recently on the anniversary of Franco’s death. The demonstrators wave Nationalist flags and other Francoist symbols, glorifying the Spanish civil fight and pro-Franco dictatorship. However, the 2007 Law of Historical Memory has recently put an end to such demonstrations.
The Law of Historical Memory was passed December 10, 2007 to recognize victims on both sides of the Spanish Civil War and those of Franco’s dictatorship. Article 18 of the Law says that “in no place of the enclosure [of Valley of the Fallen] will acts of exaltation of the Civil war, of its protagonists, or of Francoism.” Another stipulation of the law is that the Valley “will include among its objectives to honor the memory of all those passed away as a consequence of the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 and of the following political repression with the objective of deepening the knowledge of this historical period and in the exaltation of peace and democratic valor.” With these new laws come some changes in the Valley. No longer can the Francoists wave their pre-constitutional flags, or political rallies.
But will these laws undo the bias literally and figuratively etched into the monument? Before the laws it was a place for the Nationalists to come and remember the right-wing political origins of their ideals and their dead. I will be investigating if the new laws make the Valley of the Fallen a more hospitable place for Republicans; if they are able to tie the monument with their memories of the war and post-war repression in the same way the Nationalists used Francoist demonstrations in this site of memory to collectively remember Franco and his ideals. With the findings of my research, I will be able to offer new insights about the ever-changing, dynamic relationship between physical space and the performance of memory.

Click here to link to the map 

Comments are closed.