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2/ El Valle de los Caídos

El Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen), or Cuelgamuros as it is often referred to because of the name of the site where it was built, is one of the monuments, or architectural complexes, whose fate is currently in a kind of limbo, a legal limbo, but also a limbo in terms of its place in the collective memory of Spanish society.

Setting out from a brief presentation and contextualization of Spain in the 21st century, we shall endeavour to succinctly explain the similarities between this site and that of Philip II’s El Escorial, which inspired it. In the third part of this article, we shall talk of the Valle de los Caídos itself, of how and when it was conceived, who the experts were that were commissioned to undertake it and, especially, what the main motivation for building it was, as well as the different reinterpretations of its meaning that it has undergone throughout its history. In the final section of this article, we shall analyse the relationship between the Valle de los Caídos and memory and discuss the apparent cul-de-sac that it currently finds itself in.


Elena Cardona
Elena Roig Cardona is Architect (Universitat Politècnica de Valencia). Master of Arts in Philosophy (the Open University U.K.), she is PhD candidate at the Jean Monnet University (Lyon-Saint-Etienne, France).


The beginning of the 20th century was a complicated period of upheaval in Spain. The military defeat to the United States in 1898 and the consequent loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines was hard to accept for a population that still dreamt of the Spanish imperial past. The struggle between those who wished to recover that imperial ideology and those who sought to build a country in line with the modern and liberal values of the rest of Europe led, in the political field, to successive changes in power during the first three decades, between republicans, monarchists and dictatorships. That instability and incessant changes of government would end with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, a conflict that would go on until 1939.

The outbreak of the war caused a violent interruption in all sectors of society, not least the artistic and creative fields. That interruption, however, was to be far more than a simple parenthesis or pause on the road to development; it proved to be cataclysmic, a total collapse, with horrendous consequences in all social, economic and political fields.

In architecture, for example, it represented a complete break with all the advances that, up till that year, 1936, had been made in the previous decades, especially during the 1930s with the work undertaken by groups such as GATEPAC. Not only were several promising architects lost in the war, but those who remained after the peace was signed were faced with a situation of utter confusion. The impositions of the new regime in the cultural field meant that most architects found it impossible to resume the work they had previously been doing in any coherent way.

At the end of the conflict, the country found itself totally desolated, destroyed and demoralized. The urgent problem the country and architects had to face, of course, was to repair the huge damage caused to towns and cities. The reconstruction of the country presented an architectural problem so immense and arduous that there was no time for any work other than removing the evidence of those most bitter, tragic and deadly years.

(…) la paz no planteará, en lo arquitectónico, preocupaciones teóricas de tipo intelectual o estético y sí realistas y utilitarias de primera necesidad.

(…) La arquitectura de posguerra española concentra sus esfuerzos en esta única tarea: la reconstrucción*(…) the peace will not, for architects, pose theoretical concerns of an intellectual or aesthetic nature, but real and utilitarian concerns of immediate needs (…) Spanish post-war architecture concentrated all its efforts on this sole task: reconstruction. (FLORES, 1961 p.188)

During the post-war period, or at least for the first decade (1940s), there was an attempt by the new State to define its own architecture to reflect its own ideology. As often happens on winning a war, the winning side feels the need to proclaim its victory, to demonstrate to the public its power and the fullness of its victory and it normally does so, not only by reconstructing what the enemy has destroyed, but by imposing a particular and distinct architectural style, especially in official buildings and commemorative monuments to permanently reflect that power. Spain, in this aspect, was no different.

The winner in this case was Francisco Franco Bahamonde, a conservative Catholic general who had seen the war as a “crusade” against the evils of Spain, namely republicanism or liberal democracy. His use of the word “crusade” should be sufficient to imagine the type of regime that he wanted to impose once the war was over: A Catholic nationalist one-party state.

Franco’s insistence on returning to the glorious imperialist past once the war was over led to a frenzy among architects for building of a series of imposing, monumental buildings of little practical sense in a country that, during the 1940s, was subject to the most abject poverty. The only real aim of those buildings was to show who is boss and to compare that boss to the greats of the past. At a time when hunger and misery were the overriding concerns of the Spanish populace, Franco ordered the building of the Ministerio del Aire (Air Force Ministry)1, the Universidad Laboral de Gijón (Gijon Workers’ University)*Built in Madrid between 1943 and 1958 by Luis Gutiérrez Soto and Ramón Beamonte., and the Arco del Triunfo or Arco de la Victoria (Triumphal Arch or Arch of Victory)* Built in Madrid between 1950 and 1956 by Modesto López Otero and Pascual Bravo Sanfeliú., the latter being a monument that directly compared himself to Roman emperors.

These buildings represent what the new regime wanted to impose on the country through architecture, an academicist architecture harking back to the period of Philip II and his architect Juan de Herrera. The fact that Juan de Herrera was building at the height of Spanish imperial power and wealth and that Franco wanted to recreate that atmosphere in a Spain, weak, confused and chaotic, did little to dampen the enthusiasm that the winning side, and its architects, felt at the beginning of this enterprise, an enthusiasm that would fade away over the years and be replaced by a sense of incredulity that such an absurd idea could ever have been accepted.

The building of that era that perhaps best reflects that shift in perception is the Valle de los Caídos, an architectural complex inspired by Juan Herrera’s El Escorial. The controversy that the Valle de los Caídos continues to cause stems not only from the fact that Franco had it built to exalt his own figure and power, but that it was built by republican prisoners to glorify those who died for the “Patria” or Fatherland.

Moreover, as a result of the vagaries of history, its basilica ended up being a place not only where Franco is buried, but also José Antonio Primo de Rivera* Spanish lawyer and politician, ancestor of the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, and founder of the Spanish Falange., a previous dictator who had nothing to do with the Civil War. Near them lie a large number of republicans, buried under completely different conditions (mass graves) and as if that were not absurd enough, the complex belongs to the church, but is financed to this day by public funds.


Franco took his inspiration from El Escorial in order to build Valle de los Caídos for many reasons. First and foremost is perhaps the idea of thanking God for his victory in the Civil War, at the same time as rewarding the Catholic church for its support during that war.

El Escorial Monastery was built on the orders of Philip II, among other reasons, to commemorate the battle of San Quintín* A battle that took place between the troops of the Spanish Empire and the French army on 10th August 1557, and ended in a decisive victory for the Spanish. . By doing so Philip II sought to provide a house for God where he could praise and thank Him for his intervention in the battle, at the same time as building a place of worship around the family tomb so as to fulfil the last will of his father, the emperor Charles I of Spain who later became Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.

El Escorial was built between 1563 and 1584 on a hillside area that had once been a scrap iron dump, hence its name, El Escorial. Situated on the southern foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, Philip II chose this site to build as it was the most central spot possible on the peninsula, so symbolizing the idea of power and control that he exercised over the entire territory as king and monarch.

The complex comprises a royal palace, a basilica, a pantheon, a library* A library of great importance at the time with a collection of more than 14,000 volumes in various languages., a college and a monastery (although originally occupied by Hieronymite monks, at present and since 1885, it has been occupied by Augustinians).

Although the first architect designated for the project was Juan Bautista de Toledo* An architect who had worked on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican with Michelangelo between 1546 and 1548., who provided Philip II with the l “traza Universal”, the most representative plans of the monastery, it was Juan de Herrera, on the death of the former architect in 1567, who reorganized the project and provided the building with its final character and style that we know today.

Illustration 1. Ground plan of El Escorial

Although Franco took his inspiration from El Escorial for reasons of an ideological nature and placed the Valle de los Caídos in the same Sierra de Guadarrama, not far from Philip II’s architectural site, his project could never equal that of his predecessor, as the most characteristic feature of El Escorial was not only the fusion of promoter and architect, but also the era in which it was conceived and built: the Renaissance* Late renaissance or to be more accurate Mannerist.

Philip II was of a strong, rigorous and extremely religious character, with a great will to dominate. A cultured figure, he is also regarded as a syncretist, wishing to unite the past (tradition) with the future. Juan de Herrera, for his part, was a scientist and mathematician in close contact with Italian culture, interested in magic and cabalistic symbolism. The epoch in which they came together, monarch and architect, was an epoch that besides attaching importance to Man and his proportions, placed great value on numerical sequences, perspective and mathematical proportion, as well as musical harmonies. It should not be forgotten that the Universe, at that time, was considered to have been created by God along the lines of harmony and its metric consequence, modulation.

Juan de Herrera understood the rigour of his patron and in that knowledge proposed the most significant work of art at that time. El Escorial is, indeed, a synthesis of the prevailing architectural models in Europe at those years, a synthesis that also created its own architectural language: Herrerian* A style recommended by Juan de Herrera and developed in Spain in the later part of the 16th century and that continued to be used up to the 17th century.. From the Renaissance it borrows classical columns, arcades and other elements recovered from classical architecture, but above all it takes, from that age, the sense of the grandiose, the orderly and symmetry. From Flemish architecture, Juan de Herrera borrowed the composition of the facades, as well as the layout of the brickwork, the copious use of chimneys and, especially, the form, materials and details of the roofs. Finally, from Castilian architecture he borrowed the ground plan layout and decorative austerity, appropriate to the Counter-Reformation, of which Philip II was the standard-bearer.

El Escorial was the symbol of state and world order, a work in which the monarch played a more prominent role than his collaborators* Also involved with Juan de Herrera were Juan Minjares, Giovanni Battista Castelo “El Bergaman” in the main staircase and Francisco de Mora. The culture and wealth of the monarchy at that time attracted a refined and complex court around the king. The court was highly active, discussing and proposing solutions among themselves, and clearly reflected the Renaissance will to combine art, science and knowledge. Philip II knew very well how to take advantage of this and surrounded himself with a scientifically organised team made up of theologians, painters, architects, musicians, etc. in which he was at the head.

El Escorial es símbolo del orden estatal y del orden mundial. (…) La lectura de la planta de El Escorial proporciona conocimientos semejantes a los de la lectura de un tratado sobre el sistema político de España. Refleja su concepto de la relación del rey con la Iglesia y el Estado* El Escorial is a symbol of State order and world order (…) A reading of the ground plan of El Escorial provides knowledge similar to the reading of a treatise on the political system of Spain. It reflects the concept of the relationship between the king, Church and State.. (Álvarez Alonso and García Merayo, 2006, 2nd Part, p.83)

Some authors have gone a little further and rather than see the El Escorial as a faithful reflection of its time, have speculated on the relationship between the biblical model of the Temple of Solomon and the work of Juan de Herrera, especially if we follow that idea of placing the king at the head – which in the case of El Escorial would be represented by the Palace- and with the notion of temple as the house of God. Solomonism, after all, was a widely-held belief at that time.


Franco wanted to erect a monument that would defy time and oblivion, to erect a grandiose temple in honour of God and the Patria.

In April 1940, just one year after having won the war, Franco issued a Presidential Decree (Appendix I) to erect a grand mausoleum of exaltation, a templo grandioso de nuestros muertos, en que por los siglos se ruegue por los que cayeron en el camino de Dios y de la Patria* grandiose temple for our dead, in which the fallen on the path of God and Patria will be prayed for centuries to come.

For such purposes, the architect Pedro Muguruza was commissioned by Franco to undertake the Valle de los Caídos project.

El encargo de construir un “monumento nacional a los caídos” le llegó a Pedro Muguruza directamente de Franco. Monumento que no sólo debía convertirse en el símbolo de los vencedores de la guerra, sino que debía conectar con el pasado imperial de España* The commission to build a “national monument to the fallen” arrived to Pedro Muguruza directly from Franco. A monument that would not only become a symbol of the victors of the war, but should connect with the imperial past of Spain. (Castaño and Bustos, 2015 p.170)

Pedro Muguruza Otaño (Madrid, 1893-1952) was an architect, restorer, urban planner, academic, draughtsman and later in life a politician. In the 1920s he began to make a name for himself with projects such as the Palacio de la Prensa, the first building to be built on Madrid’s Gran Via.

Muguruza was a typical architect of his age. He studied academicist classicism and other formal languages, such as regionalism or Art Deco. Also important for his future career, was his work as restorer of monuments, which provided him with a deep understanding of the history of architecture and of certain singular buildings in particular.

If Muguruza, before the war, did not actively participate in political life, nor have any strong affiliation with Falangism, his support for the new regime, once the war ended, seems to have more to do with his conservative ideas than anything else. From 1938, he involved himself much more in politics at the same time as becoming a public figure with a desire to organize and institutionalize the architectural profession. One year later, in 1939, he was named Director General of Architecture, a move that made him a key post-war figure. Indeed, he came to be considered as the Franco’s favourite architect.

Clearly Franco commissioned Pedro Muguruza to undertake the project for political commitment, but also perhaps for his knowledge of classical, regionalist and traditional architecture, as well as for his interest in Herrerism, the plateresque style, baroque architecture and for his wide knowledge of monumental buildings. Even so, most of the architectural complex that we know today is not by Muguruza, with the exception of the primitive monastery and the chapels on the Stations of the Cross.

His original plans for the Valle de los Caídos included an outer exedra and a walkway that gave access to a basilica-crypt dug into the Risco de la Nava hillside, an abbey or monastery, a youth barracks, the Stations of the Cross and a great cross crowning the complex on the hilltop of the Risco de la Nava.

Muguruza began the project in 1940, but because of a degenerative disease that ended his life in 1952, he was succeeded by his pupil in 1949, the architect Diego Méndez, Méndez being completely oblivious to contemporary architectural trends.

Méndez altered practically everything in the project: he doubled the hollowing out of the crypts, raised the cross to a height of 150 metres, eliminated the youth barracks and backed the abbey onto the Risco, so connecting it with the crypt by means of an inner gallery so that the Benedictine monks could have easy access between one building and another. The inside of the basilica was also changed, especially the finishes, as was much of the outside.

The work began, however, on the orders of Pedro Muguruza. Work on the site began with the excavation of the mountain to house the basilica-crypt. Despite all the danger and complexity that hollowing out the mountain entailed, the most important element of the complex, and the one which caused the most concern, was the cross. Building a 150-metre cross on top of the Risco de la Nava was no easy task. That cross would separate or divide the complex of the Valle de los Caídos in two. On one side of the mountain would be the monastery and the guesthouse and, on the other opposing side, the basilica.

Image I

El Escorial combines the thought and art of the Renaissance. Franco wanted no less and, helped by the inclination that Muguruza felt for classicist and Herrerian architecture, El Escorial served both as architectural inspiration (a set of various buildings, a complex programme, its layout, and the architectural elements that are used as a clear reflection of that inspiration), and also a symbolic one. Lacking any other source of inspiration, Franco took the symbology of the Church as the basis for many of the decisions taken on the Valle de los Caídos project; a faithful reflection, on the one hand, of the religious fervour that Franco himself felt for the church, and on the other, of the power that he knew the church could exercise over the people.

Thus, for example, the walkway for arriving at the basilica is made up of a stairway of 100 metres in width, with two sections of ten steps each, symbolizing the ten commandments and the path towards the moral ascension man* Construcción del monasterio de El Escorial, p.11.

Entrance to the basilica, flanked by imposing porticos notable not only for their size but their austerity, is gained through the central doorway, above which rests the Pietà, the work of the sculptor Juan Avalos. The basilica, excavated out of the mountainside is a total of 272 metres long, which gives a clear idea of the magnitude of the work, as the basilica of the Vatican, for example, is only 193 metres long. It comprises a vestibule, atrium, intermediate space- where the famous monumental iron-gate is situated- crowned by a dome of 42 metres in diameter.

From the basilica one can gain access to the inside of the cross by means of an elevator. Diego Méndez was not only responsible for the planning of the cross, but also its direction, working together with the sculptor. The cross was built in three parts: a base (25 metres high) with the 4 evangelists, one at each corner; a plinth (17 metres high) with the figures of the Four Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Courage, Temperance and Justice); and the cross itself (108 metres high), giving a total of 150 metres.

The cross which can be seen more than 40 kms away from the north-east of Madrid is both intimidating and disproportionate. It is, however, due to its height and slenderness, the most important architectural element of the complex as far as technique is concerned. To build it, numerous tests and trials had to be undertaken to analyse how resistant it would be to the wind and other forces. Just to erect the scaffolding required to bear the weight of the materials and to assemble the wings of the cross was a remarkable feat of engineering.

El resultado de tantos cambios e intervenciones fue el compendio de un arte kitsch, híbrido tradicional-moderno, de una iconografía contrarreformista teñida de interpretaciones heroicas, de un simbolismo elemental, que fue el producto con acento épico de la retrógrada mentalidad burguesa y de la jerarquía católica española que imperaba en España desde el reinado del felón Fernando VII* The work was finally completed in 1958, still under the direction of Diego Méndez. Méndez had made so many changes to Muguruza’s original plans that the result was a compendium of Kitsch art, a traditional-modern hybrid, a counter-reformist iconography imbued with heroic interpretations, an elementary symbolism of epic proportions of a retrograde bourgeois mentality and of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy that had prevailed in Spain from the reign of “The Felon King” Ferdinand VII.. (Castaño and Bustos, 2015 p.172).

Quite apart from the architectural successes and failures, it is essential to note that for much of the time that it was under construction (1940-58), the workforce consisted of republican prisoners, i.e. prisoners of war, who were offered the opportunity of reducing their sentences through hard labour.


The impetus, energy and enthusiasm with which the work began, added to the fact that there was a cheap, if not free, workforce available in 1940, began to lose strength and faded away as the years went by. Although, immediately after the war, Franco felt at the peak of his power, capable of controlling and dominating the country, his subsequent policies as well as the direction that international events took from 1945 onwards, made all the fanfare and pride gradually wear thin, so tempering the vanity of the regime.

As early as the 1960s, the Valle de los Caídos, although recently completed, began to lose its ceremonial status.

(…) su presencia mediática se redujo a servir de telón de fondo para las crónicas de unos actos de memoria periódica* (…) its media presence was reduced to serving as a back-drop for reports on several occasional memorial events. (Moreno Garrido, 2016, p. 24)

The discourse on the Valle de los Caídos was changing at the same speed and in the same direction as the discourse and policies of Franco himself. If in the beginning the Valle de los Caídos was referred to as a complex built as a symbol of the crusade and in honour of those who died for the Patria, at the end of the 1960s, as Paloma Aguilar* Moreno Garrido, 2016, p.27 points out, that discourse was replaced in the tourist guides of the El Valle de los Caídos by “all who fell in the Spanish Civil War” and “all those who gave their lives for their ideals”

A quarter of a century after the victory, there was a need to convince the public that this change of direction and political discourse was not actually a change but something that had always been true. In 1964, with the idea of commemorating 25 years of peace, one of the greatest image operations in the history of Spain was undertaken, an operation the aim of which was to show Franco not only as military winner of the Civil War, but as the guarantor of peace among the Spanish. It was at that moment that he took the opportunity to reinterpret the national significance of the Valle, not now as a symbol of an ideological nature, but as a symbol of national reconciliation. This change of discourse, however, made no reference to the fact that although the dead of both sides were buried there, the conditions for some and for others were not the same, as the republicans, most of them, if not all, were buried in mass graves.

It was, therefore, only in the 1960s when this change towards the notion of Spanish reconciliation, largely in response to international pressure on the regime, began to take hold. Nevertheless, that reconciliation remained partial, as neither in the tourist guides nor in the monument was there any specific mention to the fallen on the republican side. There were no names, no mention of where they were from and no indication how many there were. It could even be said that they had just been forgotten* Moreno Garrido, 2016, p.54.

In fact, it was not until well into the 21st century that the number of the dead in Cuelgamuros began to be known. It is estimated that the total is around 33,800, many of them republican victims of the firing squad and torture, etc. and others that were sent to the Valle without the consent or even the knowledge of their families.

The Valle de los Caídos represented throughout the Franco years- and for many years later- the erased memory of the republican dead. However, it was not only the memory of the republican dead that evaporated or disappeared into thin air, but also the other erased memory: that of the workers who took part in its construction. They were never mentioned in any official guide until fairly recently* Idem.

Following the death of Franco on 20th November 1975, the process known as the Transition began. During this period the Valle de los Caídos acquired an increasingly anachronistic symbolism. Six months after the death of Franco, the Confederation of Ex-Combatants and the Blue Division (División Azul) held a funeral service in his memory, and on the 20th November 1976, in the ceremonies held to commemorate the first anniversary of his death at the Valle de los Caídos, all the political leaders, led by the Royal Family, attended. So incongruous was this event that it was the last time that the Royal Family appeared at any official public event in memory of the dictator.

During the Transition, two years after Franco’s death, a General Amnesty Law was passed, a law that both freed political prisoners, but at the same time prohibited any trial of crimes committed by the Francoists. This may seem shocking today, and it is, but at that time, the foundations of the new democracy were so shaky and the desire to consolidate it so great that this appeared to be the only solution. Today that option seems incredible and unwise, but as a Francoist slogan put it so well and paradoxically in the 1960s: Spain is different.

The Amnesty Law, however, failed to achieve its objective, as it did not put an end to the controversy the Valle de los Caídos had provoked ever since its construction.

During the 1980s, even though the celebrations of the 20th November were losing media interest, the most dedicated followers of the Francoist regime continued to gather in front of the basilica to commemorate the anniversary of the death of “El Caudillo”. In that same time, the period when democracy was supposedly being consolidated, and although it may seem paradoxical, the remains of the dead continued to arrive at the Valle de los Caídos. Indeed, the final entry in the registry book, dated 3rd June 1983, was made a full six months after the first Socialist prime minister, Felipe González, came to power in the elections of 1982. To add heightened irony to the still popular slogan that Spain is different the monument continued to be promoted as a tourist site, reaching a volume of visitors estimated at more than 600,000 a year. Weddings were even held in the Basilica!

It would appear that, either the Spanish public had no idea of what had happened during Francoism, and especially in the Valle de los Caídos, due to a lack of information or disinformation; or they wished to close their eyes and ears and erase that unpalatable past which they were totally fed up with. Another possibility, of course, is that Spanish society was indeed a conservative, national Catholic society and in favour of Franco, a thesis difficult to sustain in the wake of the overwhelming socialist victory at the polls in 1982. The most likely explanation of this phenomenon is that the fear of a coup d’état- something that occurred, though unsuccessfully, in 1981- and the success of the rebranding exercise of the 1960s referred to earlier, meant that no-one wished to bring up the thorny issue of the Valle de los Caídos.

If Felipe González’ government did little to change the situation of the Valle de los Caídos, the two legislatures of José María Aznar at the head of the Partido Popular did even less, and for obvious reasons. The Partido Popular was, until very recently, a coalition of all right-wing parties, from centre-right to ultra-right leanings. It was not in their interest to suggest any changes to the status quo, as far as the Valle de los Caídos was concerned.

It was in 2004, with the election of a new socialist government headed by José Luis Zapatero and with a clear programme of social reform, that the controversy over the Valle de los Caídos and indeed the war crimes committed by the Francoist regime came to the fore. The Historical Memory Law was passed in 2007* The process that led to the passing of the Historical Memory Law began on 10th September 2004 with the approval of a Law to set up an inter-ministerial committee presided over by the Vice-President Mª Teresa Fernández de la Vega.. That Law established that the Valle should be governed “by the standards applicable (…) to places of worship and public cemeteries”, no “acts of a political nature or exaltation of the Civil War, of its protagonists or of Francoism”* Garrido Moreno, 2019, p.31 being permitted.

In 2011, in the final days of Zapatero’s term in office, the Committee of Experts, set up to recommend what should be done with the Valle de los Caídos issued their report, saying:

(…) el recinto debería sufrir una resignificación integral que “proporcione la relectura completa del recinto monumental” con la creación de un Centro de Interpretación en el que se explique cuál fue el origen del proyecto, el contexto socio-político y quienes participaron en la misma* (…) the site should undergo a redefinition that “provides a complete re-reading of the monumental site with the creation of a Centre of Interpretation where the origin of the project, the socio-political content, and who were involved in building it are explained.. (Moreno Garrido, 2016, p. 35)

However, with the return of the Partido Popular to power, this time led by Mariano Rajoy, all the old fears of upsetting the right wing of the party and weakening the right wing alliance surfaced once again, the Historical Memory Law being virtually ignored with the argument that any discussion of what had happened during and after the Civil War would only reopen old wounds. That argument was repeated time and time again even in the face of Pablo Greiff (the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence) saying on a visit to Spain at the beginning of 2014 that* Moreno Garrido, 2016, p.39,

“In its present state, the site does not provide any kind of information or signalling that explains the prevalence of Francoist and fascist symbology and the exaltation of the “winning” side in the Civil War. Nothing explains the ambiguous character or the later idea of providing the site with a sense of “reconciliation”. Nothing states that it was built with the forced labour of thousands of political prisoners under inhuman conditions. No information is offered on the bodies of the almost 34,000 individuals who were buried there, nor that many remains were transported there with the consent and/or knowledge of their families. Nothing explains who José? Antonio Primo de Rivera was, nor why he was buried in the centre of the basilica, nor why the general Francisco Franco was buried there without ever being a victim of the Civil War” (Moreno Garrido, 2016, p. 40).

His recommendation was that the Valle de los Caídos be “redefined, with the appropriate techniques and pedagogy, in favour of promoting the truth and memory with an educational and preventive function”* Idem, p.41.


The word “memory” comes from the Greek mnéme, that later gave us memoria, in Latin. “Memory” means to set, save, or store. It is the psychic faculty with which we remember, or what is the same, our ability to recall, save, or store memories in the mind. “Remember”, on the other hand, is to take from the memory, bring to someone’s mind or make someone recall something. Whereas memory stores events- memories-, “remember” is the ability to order those memories in a structured way, an ability closely related with language and hence to narrative.

The narrative that Franco wished the world to remember was to be expressed, as we said at the beginning of this article, in a monument that would defy time and oblivion; a grandiose temple in honour of God and Patria, a temple where prayers could be offered to the dead for centuries to come.

A monument is a work or construction that carries artistic, historical, scientific or literary values, the object of which is to preserve the memory of an individual, individuals or an event in the collective memory, i.e. to defy time and oblivion. A monument is also a public work of great value for history. Colloquially a monument is associated with something very big and excellent. Although Franco managed to combine these three ideas in his Valle de los Caídos, one must not sin, as Cárdenas del Moral says, by confusing “monumentality” with “monumentalism”. If the first term is usually associated with something unique, useful and true, the second is usually associated with something false, ostentatious and pompous. It could, therefore, be said that, with the Valle de los Caídos, Franco achieved a monument in form, but with a content more monumentalist than monumental, at the same time as being totally anachronistic.

Furthermore, a temple is a sacred place of worship. In the case of the Valle de los Caídos, it was designed to be a place to pay homage not only to God, but to all those who died for the Patria. In doing so, Franco actually built a collective funerary monument, i.e., a type of Pantheon, a funerary site where thousands of combatants rest “for the Patria” in the beginning, “for their ideals” later, and, ironically, for himself, as it was here that the body of the dictator was buried after his death on 20th November 1975.

Far from representing a site which all Spanish people can be proud of, it now represents a monument to one of the bloodiest, cruel and anti-democratic periods in the history of Spain. Whilst a small minority of Falangists may see it as the final proof of the power and glory of the Caudillo, for most it represents an insult to truth and a perversion of justice.

So, what is to be done then with Cuelgamuros? Following a successful motion of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist party became Prime Minister on 1st June 2018 and for much of the following year his government was immersed in legal wranglings with Franco’s family and the Church over removing Franco from the Valle de los Caídos. The present Vice-President of the socialist government, Carmen Calvo, declared that a dictator cannot have a State tomb in a consolidated democracy. The current government understands, and it is logical, that they have to guarantee that Franco is not exalted in any site, as one has to prevent his tomb from becoming a place of pilgrimage for fascist tourists.

There are those who say that what should be done with Franco is to incinerate him and dispose of his ashes somewhere outside Spain, in “a place”, as Cervantes said, “whose name I do not wish to remember”. However, to exhume Franco is more complicated than it seems, as the Basilica belongs to the church, even though it is managed with public funds. The Catholic church, moreover, has never been held to account nor has changed its discourse of the crusade against that anti-Spain (the republicans), which according to it, wished to destroy the catholic nation. Added to that is the problem of Franco’s family whose only acceptable alternative for his place of rest is in the crypt of La Almudena Cathedral, a site totally unacceptable from the government’s point of view, as this would only create a pilgrimage site for the far right in the heart of Madrid.

Despite the outrage caused by the motion of no confidence and the controversy caused by the socialist plans to have Franco removed from the Valle de los Caídos, the Socialist Party won a clear victory over the now split conservative alliance in the general election of 28th April 2019, although with insufficient seats in parliament to have an outright majority. Whether the impetus to get something done about the Valle de los Caídos can be maintained remains to be seen.


The purpose of a historical monument is to establish a link between events, an individual, or individuals in the past with present society and usually suggests that that event, individual or individuals are worthy of being remembered as something to be proud of. The Valle de los Caídos, however, does not manage to achieve those links. If today it still generates conflict and controversy, it is to a certain extent, because the Spanish have not faced up to their own history, to the collective myths of the past and the horrors of the Civil War. To address those myths, to live together with them is the cement or basis of any widely accepted national history. In Germany it took 40 years for the criminality of the regime to be accepted by society.

The Valle de los Caídos can never, under any circumstance, be compared to El Escorial. It is an anachronism, out of place and time, a monument that looks backwards and only reflects one man’s determination to impose his will on Spanish society. It echoes with the discord that has surrounded it ever since it was built, the memory that it was designed to leave and what it actually left, a memory that is restless, that finds no place, that wanders, that staggers between different and distant realities, a reflection of the complexity of Spain as a country and as a society. Today, more than half a century after it was built, Spain still needs to put its ghosts to rest.


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