home Expert’s view Mausoleum of terror. Fallen in Pamplona and Cuelgamuros

Mausoleum of terror. Fallen in Pamplona and Cuelgamuros

Cover picture: The Valley of Cuelgamuros without the cross and the Francoist symbols | Photomontage: Núria Ricart

By Jordi Guixé i Coromines, director of the EUROM and professor at the University of Barcelona

The memorials to wars, heroes and victories are symbols that seek to perpetuate the past in our lives. An iconic imposition of the connection between past and present. These types of monuments wanted to implant a kind of memory, a “permanent Napoleon” that evokes the heroism of history as the fruit of our origins.

On the other hand, there is another way to commemorate the past in the present and one’s own present: the work of memory. A work that combines the everyday practice with the critical, theoretical and historical analysis of the past that continues among us. It is an interdisciplinary and systematic work that allows us to change the “monumental” and “old-fashioned” visits for a critical and analytical approach to historical journeys.

Instead of commemorating heroic deaths, battles, triumphs of bloody victories of recent/modern wars or obscene and violent dictatorships, we must give a voice to the textimony of the combat in favour of the democratic memory, the abolition of wars, totalitarianisms and conflicts.

At the same time, when the public policy acts in places of memory, this place must transmit a critical knowledge, as well as the experience of learning through a public and citizen pedagogy inside a society that grows in peace and democracy, but which is not ignorant. It is complex, conflictive and not very consensual to act or address these issues in spaces, monuments or buildings resulting from barbarism, anti-democracy and the concealment of the reality of history. A reality that hides and harbours the discomfort of violence between neighbours and families. A history that removes injustices from a tense and vengeful society, where it was easier killing than surviving. It is not easy to act in such circumstances; however, time, justice, consolidated democracy, and a political decision must exercise the right to recover the past for the sake of democracy, the present and the future one.

For this reason, as experts and “trans-national Think-tank” in Spain, the European Observatory on Memories (EUROM) has carried out, analysed and even speculated on the future, present and the possible memorial uses of the two largest mausoleums of terror that exist in Europe and Spain: the monument to the Fallen in Pamplona and the great Mausoleum of the Valley of Cuelgamuros -or the Fallen-. The first was built in the 1950s by the Franco government to bury the leaders of the military uprising, Generals Mola and Sanjurjo, along with other “heroes and requetés (Carlist militiaman) from Navarra killed during the holy national crusade” (following Franco’s language). The second was designed by the dictator himself to also house the remains of the “Fallen for God and Spain”, and ended up burying the same dictator, along with the founder of the Spanish Falange, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera.

Proposing a democratic campaign on these Mausoleums of Terror forces us to a complex and obligatory action to combine dignity, experience, and learning. In the following text, I offer a very brief summary of the two working documents on these huge mausoleums, one carried out in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The fallen in Pamplona 

The current question is what to do with the monument and this question is presented as a new municipal and urban project after the removal of the bodies of the two general leaders of the coup d’état which took place in July 1936 – these were Mola and Sanjurjo (the third, as we have pointed out was Franco himself).

The monument, unlike Cuelgamuros, is located at the heart of the city of Pamplona; it is articulated as a hierarchical element at a symbolic, social and urban level, making use of recognisable main references (such as Les Invalides of Paris and Saint Peter of the Vatican). A large dome surrounded by porticoes with columns that develops a classic but austere architecture language.  Should the society be asked -as we randomly did while we carried out the project- most of the answers would state that the building was -or is- a basilica or church of neoclassical style and more or less from the 19th century. This lack of awareness must be reduced by the project.

Monument to the fallen in Pamplona | EUROM

The scale of the building stands out, giving rise to an out-of-proportion object with respect to its immediate and periurban environment that imposes itself on the city.

From its original conception, it defines a situation of a full stop (backdrop) of an area with clear limits: the end of the avenue Carlos III el Noble, one of the most important streets of the 2º Ensanche of Pamplona. Its dome, covered with slate, rises to become a singular landmark in the landscape -also by means of its night-time illumination- from considerable distances such as the Plaza del Castillo itself, one kilometer to the Northwest.

Project of ideas for a temporary intervention in the Monument to the Fallen on Pamplona, by Núria Ricart and Jordi Guixé | Photomontage: Núria Ricart

The complex is built on an artificial elevation two metres high with respect to the level of the adjacent streets and squares. The aim of this prominence is to raise the complex and turn it into a monumental landmark in the landscape; as well as to host specific underground uses such as the crypt of the monument itself and its access corridors from the side buildings. In this sense, it is worth highlighting the enormous complexity of the architectural programme in terms of the accesses and uses of the different levels of the monument (terrace – dome, balconies, basilica, underground passages, and crypt).

The actions carried out by the City Council of Pamplona with respect to such an enormous mausoleum, initially involve the elimination of all Francoist symbols and the movement of bodies in an attempt to resignify the Francoist monument.  Therefore, the following actions were taken:

  • the demystification of the Crypt through the exhumation of the remains of Generals Mola, Sanjurjo and the soldiers.
  • the amendment of the nomenclature not without some conflicts and ambiguities. In 2017, the former Plaza Conde de Rodezno was given the name of Plaza de la Libertad (the two names still coexist in Google maps and other sources consulted).
  • the symbolism of Franco inside and outside the monument was provisionally covered with the exception of the Catholic and Carlist texts, symbology and iconography.
  • the attempt to use the space as an Exhibition Hall, currently without programming.

Our new proposal and the opinion of many victims’ associations goes beyond the actions we consider necessary and laudable after 40 years of dictatorship and 40 years of democracy in transition. Don’t forget that Franco’s regime in Navarre was imposed from July 1936, that is to say, there was no Civil War, but a direct and immediate repression, where almost 4000 people were murdered.

It’s not easy to resignify so much barbarism. The bold proposal should create spaces for research, in terms of history, the victims’ dignity, art, culture, and anthropology; in the most positive sense of any democratic memorial of societies.

Proposed action

The monument to the Fallen represents an insult to democracy and to victims’ families murdered by the Franco regime. The imposition at a symbolic, architecture and monument level also means an insult to the current society, which somehow tries to make the structure go unnoticed, without success.  Nobody knows anything, but the monument for the Fallen has an imposing, indestructible and hierarchical presence in the city. The monument holds an imposing position, which seems to talk, lead and controls the city, and it can be seen from the old town, while having a coffee in the Plaza del Castillo, shopping in the sales term in the expansion district, going to the chemist’s, shops, offices and government offices

In a first consideration, it seems logical that such an imposing presence should be demolished. As for substance and form, this presence is annoying and arrogant. This is the reason why the monument was built and there are still obstacles from its initial function. Demystification is a necessary and indispensable concept. The main step was taken: exhuming and moving the remains of the “fallen”. However, that is not enough.  A whole symbolism survives in the walls, in the construction itself, in the environment and, as we know, in its interior.

The debate is therefore clear:

  1. total destruction and demolition or
  2. a commitment with a contemporary cultural and memorial intervention project (which cannot be partial, timid or stony).

The second option implies a double problem that I have considered from the beginning: the memorial intervention must be contemporary and bold, social, civic and versatile, but it must also coexist with a disproportionate, mythical structure and somehow monstrous, which represents a symbol of a terror that sometimes turns to nostalgia, although hopefully for only a few. This is the reason why the intervention must overcome the sacred and nostalgic symbolism that has already taken more years from our democratic present than from our dictatorial past. This intervention cannot be hijacked by all the political-social rumours. It also entails the problem of overcoming the complex clichés that the society from Pamplona and Navarre – generally or particularly- is conservative and “foral-catholic” (relative to the fueros pertaining to the privileges of that region) “per se”. The symbol of the turning point, the 21st century, the new ages and socio-political dynamics can and must also be the intervention in the monument to the Fallen. This cannot be understood otherwise from an outside perspective.

In my opinion, the concealment of the physical imposition of the victory and the movement of the remains can justify the intervention in the monument so that it can become a positive pole of the democratic, cultural and humanist values without having to disappear. We must be radical and build a new, better and more powerful symbol if we want to deactivate them.  This will be a complex, perhaps very expensive, and very conflictive action to take, but it will represent a patrimonial benefit for the new and young generations. A future for the past will symbolize the best possible memorial intervention.

To achieve that, different scales and dimensions should be worked on, such as a permanently participative scale with the local society (at the level of Pamplona-Navarra) and another at a national and international level. Likewise, the social and urban myth related to the term “fallen” must be replaced in two levels:

  1. The cultural. The search of a name and a project that goes beyond the current urban disuse and asepsis, while at the same time generically represents a new way of approaching culture and memory.
  2. The social and anthropological level that affects the popular narrative and the unwritten nomenclature of the site: “Fallen”.  A reconsideration, for example, of a great “viewpoint” with sight to the two cities: the new and the old, the north and the south, united by this cultural centre newly constructed. A centre that, without the spirit of post modernity, is little by little considered by the new generations and visitors as a new prism, a new lighthouse, a viewpoint that also symbolises a new look at the past with a projection towards the future: a memorial museum of contemporary art and culture.
  3. The architecture level. A giant “hood” will cover the original monument. The original and historical sites, including the inner dome, the crypt and the symbolism, will be part of an educational and exclusively guided tour.  The new surrounding building will be the new Memorial Centre, much more dynamic and open to citizenship. In my opinion, the relationship with the new surrounding building, the monument and the institution of the memorial culture surpasses the military legacy and moves it over time to a new space, a new visual narrative and contents where all of us will feel challenged. Conditions: transparency, free movement through and around its structure. It involves a guided tour around the dome and viewpoint, and a cultural space underground and upper floor.

Current Process

While writing these lines, it seems that the City Council and the Government of Pamplona have finally decided to hold an international public tender on the monument (October 2018). The civil society and the associations of historical memory that were consulted have changed their mind and have shifted to demolition. Even so, the opportunity to create an international Memorial centre give rise to a reform that will be fully proposed in this public tender. Depending on the time, and the political and budgetary wills, one of the two options will be taken, however, it seems that the path taken is the right one. (The reader can request to consult the two working documents produced by EUROM writing an email to [email protected]).

The Valley of Cuelgamuros

The Dictator

Undoubtedly, the decision to exhume the corpse of the dictator, Francisco Franco, out of the three military rebels, is a powerful action with an immediate impact that put some distance with previous governments. It is also a strategic initiative and, to a certain extent, easy to put into practice as it is an irreversible action – once executed, no democratic government would dare to bury Franco again in the Valley. The focus of the media is only on this decision and not so much on the future of this site, the actions to be taken and the way to respond to the multiple questions left opened by this exhumation: what to do with the 33,847 bodies buried there? what to do with the Benedictine community and the place of worship? what should be explained in this site and how? does the entire monument have to be preserved? how should it be managed? For the moment, the announcement of the dictator’s exhumation has placed all attention on this measure. Meanwhile, it is still unknown what the future will bring for the Valley of the Fallen, the largest and most representative Francoist and National Catholic monument of the dictatorship.

The Valley of Cuelgamuros without the Francoist symbols. The cross would be demolished and turned into stone pieces while the other symbols would be exposed in a museum | Photomontage: Núria Ricart

Reconciliation is of the most used justifications by those who want to avoid any kind of action in the Valley of the Fallen and who deny that this place was built in honour of the victors of the civil war. Cuelgamuros represents an anti-democratic symbol, a late-Franco myth that has not disappeared in certain circles of the extreme right and the Catholic Church. The decree of April 1, 1940, which would start the monumental project of the Valley, already stated that its purpose was “to perpetuate the memory of those who fell in our glorious Crusade”. As is well known, the hardest part of the construction works, such as the excavation of the basilica encrypted in granite, was undertaken by Republican political prisoners. What type of reconciliation could they possibly find in a site they were forced to build by a dictatorial authority?  The purpose of the Valley is very clearly stated in the documentation of the age -in the burial order of July 11, 1946, of the decree-law of August 23, 1957 by which the foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen was created, in the letter written by Franco to José Antonio’s brothers so that he could be buried there, etc. “to bury those who fell in the Crusade, in the War of Liberation, in the Uprising, those who fought the Anti-Spain and the Marxist hordes”.

Clearly, several memories coexist in the Valley of the Fallen, until now ruled by the shadow of the dictator and under the protection of the most old-fashion National Catholicism, based on the union of the sword and the cross. Evidently, thousands of dead buried there also deserve respect; however, respect does not involve a dissolution of memories under the same “reconciling” memory. The Valley must become an agora where different memories could coexist, even if they are confronted. This does not involve their unification or mixing up without leading to “happy end” of democratic Spain through a joint memorial, but rather that each memory deserves its space -always from a democratic approach. The priorities must be: explain, periodize, identify, dignify and act. And these must be done by separately identifying and addressing the different memories, victims or soldiers there buried and/or the memorial elements.

Undoubtedly, the Valley represents the dictatorship and National Catholicism in all its variants and evaluations.

The thousands of bodies

As quoted in the Report of the Experts Committee (commissioned by the Spanish government in 2010), 33.847 people were buried in the Valley of the Fallen, between 1959 and 1983.  Many families were never aware that the remains of their loved ones, whether Republicans or Francoists, had been moved to Cuelgamuros. Some of these families are currently claiming their exhumation and identification. In fact, the Valley became the largest mass grave in Spain. It has been questioned the fact that bodies buried in the Valley of the Fallen can be recovered due to the bad state of the columns and some crypts, with mortuary boxes destroyed by the humidity and filtrations, which results in  mountains of mixed bones. In any case, the administration has an urgent duty to give a dignified burial to these remains, to attend as much as possible to the families that are looking for their remains, to identify all the people buried there and to build a memorial that remembers them. Among other episodes to be addressed later, an interpretation centre should be built in the Valley with the purpose to explain, among others, who are buried there and the struggle of their families to recover their bodies.

Two Projects: Decent treatment of the victims’ bodies and the Monument Project

1. The victims’ bodies identification and recovery project must be undertaken by national and international projects and teams with experience in exhumations and other disciplines.  The creation of a new memorial for the bodies and a new Memorial Cemetery should be accompanied by a comprehensive research project, including the creation of a Victims Research Centre of the Valley of the Fallen (or Cuelgamuros) (CIVVC) to constantly and permanently give shape, as the “Clinton’s Commission” in Bosnia, the work on the huge necropolis represented by the Valley.  This will be a difficult and complex task featuring new DNA methods, family interviews, permanent documentary research, etc. This implies a procedural study that would allow to dignify as much as possible the memory and the reparation of: the victims, the Soldiers of the two armies and the prisoners that perished there. All of them. That work should be undertaken by the State by means of such a new public memorial.

The second debate would be a focus on the “where”.  Is the Valley the ideal place for this “Memorial for the Soldiers Victims of the Spanish Civil War? Or should we look for a more appropriate place where to better interpret the “fallen” in the rebel side and the soldiers of the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War and those dead from the causes derived from the war and who were moved there?

In our opinion, only the political prisoners should only be buried in the Memorial, provided that this could be accomplished in the Civil Cemetery that exists in the Valley and that this is confirmed and allowed by the new intensive research.

Just as it happens in many other memorials and cemeteries around the world, where bodies of soldiers are treated as soldiers. There are plenty of such examples, as the memorial cemeteries of the allies in Normandy and the German cemeteries, also in battlefields or in their own country.

The “skein of victims” must be unravelled through an arduous research work, a modern memorial process, and a greater approach to the history and the characteristics of each case and at a collective level. CIVVC’s work and challenge. For all these reasons, the treatment of the Francoist monument, the building and the environment must be done separately from the treatment of the bodies buried and moved there.

2.The project proposed to be accomplished in the Monument is about the possibility of opening a space of memory. A New Memorial of National-Catholicism in the same Park-Monument. The next step would be a master plan or ambitious action plan on how to create a place of memory, pedagogy, education and citizenship there in the Valley “without the fallen”.

Aerial view of the Valley of Cuelgamuros without the cross | Photomontage: Núria Ricart

A Valley without the fallen

To begin with, we must make an obligatory reference to the legal aspects not hereby addressed (the abolition of the Foundation or the current Study Centre, the possibility of a new agreement with the Holy See, etc.). An analytical legal document should be drawn up from which new questions can be made and which should be taken into account for a project that considers the resignification and management of the Valley of the Fallen. However, beyond that report, a new project should raise (or rethink) the following sections:

  1. The conservation of the place: we support the maintenance of the Valley of the Fallen, including the sculptures group with the aim to explain the atrocity represented by dictatorship and the National Catholic regime. The reinterpretation of the symbols would not mean its elimination, hiding and concealment of Franco’s regime, but it would mean a very powerful pedagogical tool. This completely coherent position confronts others who support a partial elimination, either by means of demolition or by means of a natural “wreck” of the place caused by nature and the passing of time.  Citizenship and democracy would feel questioned about the guarantee to not repeat it again in case a new significance would be attributed to such a site as the Valley of the Fallen, which would involve a total preservation of the Francoist aesthetic design, but leaving the symbols inside or in a museum. These questions would represent reparation demands towards our society and the relatives of the movement for the recovery of historical memory.
  2. These debates should be proposed as a memorial process to include an international tender that would reconsider the space as a whole and that would create a new double memorial around two issues, inherently related although not much mixed: a ) the victims of the civil war – place to be determined; and b) the National Catholicism and dictatorship. How to accomplish it? A much wider, executive and detailed project than the present one will address this task.

Enough debates will be held; Should the cross be taken away? Should a “Memento Park” such as that of Budapest be created in the terrace or in the forest complex with all the symbolism of the Valley and the rest of the State?…. Why wouldn’t it be possible to create a “Memory Park of the Valley of Cuelgamuros”?  There are many options to consider and we believe that a performative and striking action would help to achieve a kind of social catharsis and could result in a new memory of the place for the next generations to come.

The international tender should include the following elements:

    • Interdisciplinary
    • Transnational
    • Phase of assessment and expert debate
    • Phase of assessment and social debate -participative
    • Performative ideas projects
    • Collaboration with the CIVVC
    • Alignment with the reform of the law and with the National Action Plan for Democratic Memory on Francoist symbols and monuments – should there be one…-.

To be continued

Should we explain Francoism, National Catholicism and dictatorship to our children? Should democracy create strategies and guarantees to not repeat it again? Can Spanish society face its past and thus be a fairer nation? Can we partly repair the damage and trauma suffered by our ancestors? If so, should we act on the monumental and monstrous monuments of the Fallen in Spain? (Fallen of Pamplona and the Valley of the Fallen or Valley of Cuelgamuros). We have noted and collected some ideas and public debates on these commemorative spaces of a dictatorship and a dictator. We therefore propose one or more modern, bold and professional projects to address at a political and public level this subject and act on it. Democracy must propose new places where the nostalgic pilgrimage of fascism is avoided. The present document is only an approach from different prisms and requires a debate and more executive working documents. For this reason our conclusion is a “to be continued…”. Our professional position is to act, and act soon in three phases and clear areas:

    1. Stop commemorating the dictator and his associates in monuments created by them to perpetuate their own memory. Democracy cannot honour nor commemorate dictators or dictatorships. Moving the two bodies to the private world is a sine qua non condition.
    1. Dealing the Valley as a necropolis. Study of the issue involves war soldiers being buried and transferred to the Valley, either voluntarily or by force. For this reason, we must professionally address this issue, identify the maximum number of remains and dignify the bodies and their families. This process is not simple, but we have teams of experts on this subject and graves with disappeared in Spain and Europe.
  1. To create a Memorial Park and two Contemporary Memory Centres in Pamplona and Cuelgamuros explaining the dictatorship and  National-Catholicism. These places are terrifying but hold a unique, iconic and symbolic value. These must be places of pedagogical memory that explain how a regime was imposed with violence, and lasted for almost forty years and that occupied the public and private life of more than three generations. New cultural spaces of memory always in process, modern and with some “antennas” or “sub-places” in connection. Our democracy is capable of doing so, and citizens deserve an exemplary and emblematic public democratic memory. Let’s not do it for ourselves, let’s do it for our children and the memory of citizens and the capacity to transform the uses of the past into public spaces.

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