Valley of the Fallen
This photograph shows the front of the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen where the dictator Francisco Franco was buried. This controversial monument was built to commemorate those who fought and died for the Nationalist cause. The Francoist War Dead constituted an important element in the memorial horizon of the Franco dictatorship. Glorified through intertwined discourses of military heroism and Catholic crusade, the apotheosis of Francoist remembrance is the Valley of the Fallen, for which Franco himself exploded the first stick of dynamite on 1 April 1940. The monument was built drawing on the labour of a substantial number of post-war political prisoners. It was inaugurated on 1 April 1959, on the twentieth anniversary of the Nationalist victory, after José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange and an iconic victim of Franco’s bloody crusade, had been interred near the high altar of the basilica.
Despite the fact that the documentation on the Valley does not explicitly state it to be a burial site only for the rebel dead, it is clear that it was initially conceived as a monumental celebration of the Francoist victory. That Republicans would later end up interred there is thus a point of contention, not least because the Regime thus doubly defeated and defiled its declared enemies. With its ambiguous history, the monument of the Valley of the Fallen constitutes the largest mass grave of the Spanish Civil War. Officially, 33,383 bodies are buried there. Of them, 21,423 are identified by name, and 12.410 are unidentified. Between 5,000 and 12,000 Republican dead may be interred there, though the substantial number of unidentified remains means this is impossible to confirm. Their families likely did not share the values with which the monument is imbued but were powerless to resist.
When he died on 20 November 1975, Francisco Franco was buried, with the full honours of a state funeral, before the main altar in the basilica of the Valley, only a few metres away from the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. In 2011, a commission of experts, tasked by the José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero government with advising on the future of the structure, recommended the closure of the monument for safety reasons. Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party government reopened it after having some restoration work done. On 24 October 2019 Franco’s remains were removed from the basilica and reinterred at his family tomb at Mingorrubio, outside Madrid, at the initiative of Pedro Sánchez’s government. The future of the Valley of the Fallen remains unclear. Its resignification as a civil cemetery is proposed under the terms of the 2020 Law of Democratic Memory and there is also the possibility of creating a historical interpretation centre there.