Almudena Cemetery – General Introduction

Chapel at Almudena CemeteryThe size of Almudena Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Madrid, perfectly reflects the scope of its contents, containing more graves than there are citizens in the city. However, there is definite evidence of who were the victors and losers of the Spanish Civil War, something Francisco Franco made well-known throughout his dictatorship.

There are several imposing monuments to commemorate the Nationalist dead. There is a monument to the División Azul, those Francoist soldiers sent to fight for Hitler against Russia in World War II. The visitor will also find  the graves of members of the German Condor Legion, the division that bombed the town of Guernica in 1937, inciting Pablo Picasso to paint his famous Guernica for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

The commemorations to the Republican dead are modest, including the site of the deaths of the “13 rosas rojas.” These 13 young women were incarcerated shortly after the end of the civil war for their involvement with the Communist Party of Spain (the PCE) or the Unified Socialist Youth (JSU). They were pulled from Ventas Prison in the middle of the night and executed by firing squad in Almudena Cemetery in August of 1939. The site, a simple wall, is marked by several plaques, including one that that says, “They gave their lives here for liberty and democracy the 5th of August, 1939.”

Also in Almudena, one can find the grave of La Pasionaria, Dolores Ibárruri, who was a champion of workers’ and women’s rights through her positions in the Republican government and Communist party. Madrid fended off the three year siege by Nationalist forces with the help of Ibárruri’s famous cry “No pasarán!” (“They shall not pass!”). After the war, Ibárruri went on to become Secretary General and then President of the PCE. Also, after Franco’s death in 1975, she was appointed to the Spanish government as a representative of the Asturias electoral district.

These commemorations in Almudena Cemetery serve as an interesting counterpart to the veneration for Franco and his fallen at Valle de los Caídos, since the size of the cross alone physically dwarfs the commemoration for fallen Republican soldiers, which in one instance consists of a single photo against a cemetery wall.

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