Monument to the Fallen of Spain
Creator: Velázquez, Isidro
Date Created: 1840
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Madrid, Spain
On the 10th anniversary of his ascension to the Spanish throne, proclaimed by the Cortes on 22 November 1975, King Juan Carlos inaugurated a monument to all those fallen for Spain. In reality, the ceremony repurposed a pre-existing monument located in the Plaza de la Lealtad, Madrid. The original memorial, the Monument to the Heroes of the Second of May, was more popularly known as El Obelisco. Consisting of a large obelisk, it had been inaugurated in 1840 to commemorate the dead of the popular uprising against occupying French troops which occurred in Madrid on 2 May 1808. The 1985 ceremony saw the addition of an eternal flame and a new inscription honouring all those who had given their lives for Spain.
The contrast with Franco’s Valley of the Fallen is striking, and the understated nature of the alterations to the monument reflect the tentative nature of state memory initiatives in Spain in the decade following the dictator’s death. While the 1985 ceremony did not mention the Civil War explicitly, towards the end of proceedings Juan Carlos acknowledged veterans from both sides of the conflict. The selection of a monument to the dead of the War of Independence, conventionally regarded as a moment of unified national effort, to repurpose for a modern, forward-looking Spain implied a desire for reconciliation with respect to the country’s conflicted history. This same moment was again evoked in 2008, the bicentenary of the uprising and the year following the introduction of the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, when Juan Carlos spoke of the importance of the 2nd of May in the formation of a Spanish national consciousness based on liberty, unity, equality and solidarity.
The intersection of state commemorations of the War of Independence and the Civil War in Spain demonstrates the extent to which different war memories may remain alive within politics and society, interacting at certain moments in history. The importance of the 2nd of May has waxed and waned in modern Spanish history. Under the Second Republic, the date tended to be eclipsed by May Day celebrations. Later, during the Civil War siege of Madrid the date was seen by the Spanish Communist Party as a parallel example of popular resistance against a foreign invader and a means to draw attention to Axis support for the Nationalist cause. In contrast, the Francosis regarded War of Independence as a defence of Catholicism and the Bourbon monarchy, and the 2nd of May was the first national holiday to be declared by the rebels, on 13 April 1937 – not coincidentally, as a means to distract attention from the anniversary of the declaration of the Second Republic the following day. The 2nd of May was thus imbued with political and ideological meaning during the Civil War. After the end of the Second World War, the 2nd of May would become progressively less important for the Franco regime, as its assertion of legitimacy based on heroic victory shifted towards a stronger focus on the economic growth of the 1960s.
In repurposing a monument to the 2nd of May to commemorate all those who had died for Spain, Juan Carlos proposed a reconciliation of different historical traditions which has ultimately failed to assuage claims for Civil War justice and memory in contemporary Spain.