Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales

May 12, 2009

The Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales, within the auspices of Spain´s Ministry of Culture, organizes cultural exhibitions and events to commemorate a vast spectrum of Spanish cultural topics, including those related to the II Republic, the Spanish Civil War, 1939 exile, and the postwar period. For more information on the SECC and its exhibitions, or to contact the organization, visit their website here.

“Las Presas de Franco”

May 12, 2009

The “Presas de Franco” exhibition was held at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid from March 4 to May 9, 2009. For more information click here.

Guernica – Summary

April 26, 2009

0102085656800.jpg 6a00d834515c2769e200e54f465d838834-640wi.jpg72 years ago today, on April 26, 1937, the Nazi Condor Legion bombed the small basque town of Guernica. Days later, Picasso, who was commissioned to create a piece to represent Spain for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, began the creation of what would become an icon for the Spanish Civil War.While in Madrid, my main focus was to capture how the Spanish Civil War is being represented through exhibitions. Read the rest of this entry »

Valley of the Fallen

April 8, 2009

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.

Photo Gallery from “Franco’s Female Prisoners” Exhibition

April 6, 2009
  • Photos courtesy of Conde Duque.  

An Evening with the Descendents of Exile

March 12, 2009

We went to a cocktail party tonight. It was my first cocktail party (maybe the first for others, too) and I was nervous. Who will be there? How long do we have to stay? Who am I going to talk to? Just like any other party, you walk in and search for the people you know and talk first with them. We all entered the swanky, four-star hotel and headed first for the people we knew, our new friends in Madrid: Ceferino, Ludi, María Luisa, and Carmen, members of the Association of Descendents of Exile. Read the rest of this entry »

Franco’s Female Prisoners

March 10, 2009


    Today at the Centro de Conde Duque, we saw an exhibition detailing the lives of the female political prisoner being held during the war and under Franco´s regime. In April of 1931, Victoria Kent became the director of prisons of the 2nd Republic. She assumed this position with the goal to humanize these prisons. In one of the `prisons, Ventas, there were fewer female prisoners, however the conditions on the women’s quarters were worse than those of the men. Witnesses reported that the women prisoners were extremely stern, strong figures out of Garcia Lorca poems, who were incarcerated due to their resistance to respond to accusations about who and what they may or may not have even been hiding in their homes. This Ventas prison was destroyed in the 1970s nothing exists today as a testimony to its existence. It was this prison where the ¨Trece Rosas Rojas¨ whose memorial we saw at the Almudena Cemetery) were held and later executed. Read the rest of this entry »

Carabanchel Prison

March 9, 2009

Today, we met with Carmen Ortiz, an expert on Carabanchel prison. This prison, built in 1940, was made to house nearly 2 thousand Republican prisoners. Shaped like an eight-pronged star with a cupola in the center, Carabanchel’s architecture was supposed to make the prisoners feel like they were being watched at all times. And under the reign of Francisco Franco, they were. Many prisoners were killed here, young and old alike. Read the rest of this entry »

Everyone has a story.

March 9, 2009


This morning we met with Elena Díaz of the Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales (State Society of Cultural Commemorations). This agency works to create cultural exhibitions and events with the goal of commemoration. Today we spoke with her to learn about the recent and past exhibitions her office  has produced related to the Spanish Civil War. Read the rest of this entry »

The Disunion of Memory Recovery Within The International Brigades in the Popular Front

March 9, 2009

When one walks into the abyss of the Cementario Fuencarral, they are greeted with a maze of tombs, graves, statues, and urn walls. Amidst this scenery exists a story of battles, political struggles, and the recovery of memory that is barely imaginable in this peaceful place with its view of Madrid in one distance and the mountains in the other.     The cemetery was originally constructed as a gravesite for those members of the international brigades who fell during the Battle of Jarama in 1937. Read the rest of this entry »