Valley of the Fallen

I had heard that the cross was big. I had heard that the crypt was deep. I had heard that the dome was great. But none of these prepared me for the immensity of the Valley of the Fallen.

The Holy Cross, designed by Diego Mendes, shoots 150 meters into the sky, arms stretching to 40 meters, so impressive that one can see it shooting through the trees from miles away. Looking at the Cross, I took in its beauty while at the same time my thoughts were with the thousands of prisoners of war that Franco forced to erect it.

The crypt, carved 262 meters into the mountain, engulfed me. Footsteps echoed, whispers repeated a thousand times before dissipating in the vastness of the crypt. Entranced by this space, I could only think about the republican hands coerced to carve the crypt that made me feel so small, so unimportant.

The dome in the transept hovered about me 33 meters in diameter, a gargantuan bowl turned upside down. In admiring the architectural genius that designed it, my heart went out to those who gave their lives to make Franco’s vision a reality.

Valley of the Fallen is indeed an impressive structure; no doubt the sight of it will make a person gasp. As impressive as the structure of Valley of the Fallen is, it can never in my opinion be considered beautiful because everywhere I look, I see Franco’s agenda, his ideals; it is tainted with the blood of the republican prisoners that built it.

There is irony in that Franco dedicated it to all those who gave their lives in the war, and while being built, more died who opposed Franco’s ideals. Looking at the memorial, I thought how ridiculous it was that Franco could have thought people from both sides of the war would appreciate such a place.Upon entering the Valley, we drove under huge wrought-iron gates topped with Franco’s eagles, almost warning us that this is a place for Nationalists, not everyone seems welcome. Every structure is so gargantuan, I felt like I was helpless and unimportant; Franco’s obsession with holding power over others lives on even after his death. The crest of the Falange, Franco’s eagle holding the arrows, is stamped on either side of the doors leading into the crypt.

You can’t get away from Fascism here.

Inside the crypt and church, where I couldn’t take my camera, carvings lay out the rules for everyone who enters, even today. One says “Honor in dress. Prohibit the entrance of those who do not follow this rule.” Carved into the rock, Franco made sure that he would have power over those who come here, even after his death. Another inscription in the rock: “Silence. Sacred place.” Franco still represses, still lives on in this eerily quiet place.

In the church there are old wooden pews and kneelers leading up to the altar with a giant crucifix. Just before the crucifix, however, is the final resting place of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. Surrounded by red velvet roping and graced by a bouquet of fake flowers, one has to walk around the grave, has to notice it and pay homage in order to get anywhere else in the church. Behind the Crucifix, possibly to signify that he backs Christ, is the grave of Francisco Franco himself, decorated in the same manner as Jose Antonio. Both are in the center of the church, directly under the dome, a very visible and important location; these Nationalist leaders are the center of attention in a place supposedly dedicated to both sides.

Over a mass grave in another part of the memorial is carved a typically Nationalist phrase, “Fallen for God and for Spain.”  In this grave are the bodies of Republican soldiers; Franco here is imposing a Falangist title on these men who are no longer able to resist, once more satiating his thirst for power.

My conclusion here is that the Valley of the Fallen is helplessly, unchangeably, a Fascist memorial. The ancestors of Republican soldiers will never feel welcome here, will never be able to come and mourn the loss of their families. There is too much Nationalist paraphernalia, too much hate, too much power. Not even the Law of Historical Memory would be able to erase the fact that republicans were forced to die for this shrine to Franco’s ideals. It will not be able to clean the rock, erase the carvings of the Falange crest, melt the eagles out of the wrought-iron gates, exhume the bodies of Franco and Jose Antonio. It is my belief, however unfortunate, that the Valley of the Fallen is forever doomed to be a place of Nationalist memory.

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