Valle de los Caídos

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Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, view from the esplanade

The Valle de los Caídos (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbaʎe ðe los kaˈiðos], "Valley of the Fallen") is a Catholic basilica and a monumental memorial in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid, conceived by Spanish general Francisco Franco to honor and bury those who fell during the Spanish Civil War. It was claimed by Franco that the monument was meant to be a "national act of atonement" and reconciliation. The Valley of the Fallen, as a surviving monument of Franco's rule, and its Catholic basilica remain controversial, particularly since 10% of the construction workforce were convicts, some of whom were Popular Front political prisoners.

The monument, a landmark of 20th-century Spanish architecture, was designed by Pedro Muguruza and Diego Méndez on a scale to equal, according to Franco, "the grandeur of the monuments of old, which defy time and forgetfulness". Together with the Universidad Laboral de Gijón, it is the most prominent example of the original Spanish Neo-Herrerian style, which was intended to form part of a revival of Juan de Herrera's architecture, exemplified by the royal residence El Escorial. This uniquely Spanish architecture was widely used in public buildings of post-war Spain and is rooted in international classicism as exemplified by Albert Speer or Mussolini's Esposizione Universale Roma.

The monument precinct covers over 3,360 acres (13.6 km2) of Mediterranean woodlands and granite boulders on the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, more than 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level and includes a Basilica, a Benedictine Abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos — four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. The most prominent feature of the monument is the towering 150-metre-high (500 ft) cross erected over a granite outcrop 150 meters over the basilica esplanade and visible from over 20 miles (32 km) away.

Work started in 1940 and took over eighteen years to complete, the monument being officially inaugurated on April 1, 1959. According to the official ledger, the cost of the construction totaled 1.159 billion pesetas, funded through national lottery draws and donations.

The complex is owned and operated by the Patrimonio Nacional, the Spanish governmental heritage agency, and ranked as the third most visited monument of the Patrimonio Nacional in 2009. The Spanish socialdemocrat government closed the complex to visitors at the end of 2009, citing safety reasons connected to restoration on the facade. The decision was controversial, as the closure was attributed by some people to the Historical Memory Law enacted during José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's premiership,[1] and there were claims that the Benedictine community was being persecuted.[2] The works include the Pietà sculpture prominently featured at the entrance of the crypt, using hammers and heavy machinery.[3][4] In November 2010, citing safety reasons, the Zapatero government closed down the Basilica for Mass.[5] Mass was celebrated in the open during several weeks. Checkpoints were set up, according to socialist government sources, to prevent right-wing political manifestations such as Falange flags, in accordance with the Historical Memory Law. However, Catholic sources claimed that the government was simply trying to interfere with the celebration of the Mass. After Zapatero's electoral defeat and his leaving office on December 21, 2011, normal service at the Basilica resumed.

Basilica, cross and abbey[edit]

Dome inside the Basilica
Central Nave of the Crypt

Rising above the valley is one of the world's largest basilicas, Basílica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen), hewn out of a granite ridge, and the tallest memorial cross in the world, a 152.4-metre-high construction of stone which strongly resembles the ancient stone or granite open air outdoor crosses of Kerala known as Nazraney Sthambas.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII declared the underground crypt a basilica. The dimensions of this underground basilica, as excavated, are larger than those of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. To avoid competition with the apostle's grave church on the Vatican Hill, a partitioning wall was built near the inside of the entrance and a sizable entryway was left unconsecrated.

The monumental hieratic sculptures over the main gate and the base of the cross culminated the career of Juan de Ávalos. The monument consists of a wide explanada (esplanade) with a spectacular view of the valley and the outskirts of Madrid in the distance. A long vaulted crypt was tunnelled out of solid granite, piercing the mountain to the massive transept, which lies exactly below the cross.

On the wrought-iron gates, Franco's neo-Habsburg double-headed eagle is prominently displayed. On entering the basilica, visitors are flanked by two large metal statues of art deco angels holding swords.

There is a funicular that connects the basilica with the base of the cross. There is a spiral staircase and a lift inside the cross, connecting the top of the basilica dome to a trapdoor on top of the cross,[6] but their use is restricted to maintenance staff.

The Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen (Spanish: Abadía Benedictina de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos), on the other side of the mountain, houses priests who say perpetual Masses for the repose of the fallen of the Spanish Civil War and later wars and peacekeeping missions fought by the Royal Spanish Army. The abbey ranks as a Royal Monastery.

Valley of the Fallen[edit]

The valley that contains the monument, preserved as a national park, is located 10 km northeast of the royal site of El Escorial, northwest of Madrid. Beneath the valley floor lie the remains of 40,000, whose names are accounted for in the monument's register. The valley contains both Nationalist and Republican graves.

Franco's tomb[edit]

Virgen de Loreto
Franco's tomb

In 1975, after Franco's death, the site was designated by the interim Government, assured by Prince Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Carlos Arias, as the burial place for the Caudillo. According to the Franco's family, Franco did not desire to be buried in the Valley, but in the city of Madrid. Still, the family agreed to the interim Government's request to bury him in the Valley, and until now the family stands for this decision. Therefore, the family opposes the removal of Franco from the Valley.

Before his death, nobody had expected that Franco would be buried in the Valley. Moreover, the grave had to be excavated and prepared within two days, forcing last minute changes in the plumbing system of the Basilica. Unlike the fallen of the Civil War who were laid to rest in the valley exterior to the basilica, Franco was buried inside the church. His grave is marked by a simple tombstone engraved with just his Christian name and first surname, on the choir side of the main high altar (between the altar and the apse of the Church; behind the altar, from the perspective of a person standing at the main door).

Franco is the only person interred in the Valley who did not die in the Civil War. The argument given by the defenders of his tomb is that in the Catholic Church the developer of a church can be buried in the church that he has promoted. Therefore, Franco would be in the Valley as the promoter of the basilica's construction.

Franco was the second person interred in the Santa Cruz basilica. Franco had earlier interred José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange movement, who was executed by the Republican government in 1936 and was laid to rest by the Francoist government under a modest gravestone on the nave side of the altar. Primo de Rivera died November 20, 1936, exactly 39 years before Franco, whose grave is in the corresponding position on the other side of the altar. Accordingly, 20 November is annually commemorated by large crowds of Franco supporters and various Falange successor movements and individuals, flocking to the Requiem Masses held for the repose of the souls of their political leaders.


Presenting the monument in a politically neutral way poses a number of problems, not least the strength of opposing opinions on the issue. The Times quotes Jaume Bosch, a Spanish Jewish far-left politician and former MP seeking to change the monument, as saying: "I want what was in reality something like a Nazi concentration camp to stop being a nostalgic place of pilgrimage for Francoists. Inevitably, whether we like it or not, it's part of our history. We don’t want to pull it down, but the Government has agreed to study our plan."[7]

The charge that the monument site was "like a Nazi concentration camp" refers to the use of convicts, including Popular Front war prisoners, trading their labor for a reduction in time served. Although Spanish law at the time prohibited forced labor, it did provide for convicts to choose voluntary to work on the basis of redeeming two days of conviction for each day worked. This law was in force until 1995. This benefit was increased to six days when labor was carried out at the basilica with a salary of 7 pesetas per day, a regular worker's salary for that time, with the possibility of the family of the convict benefiting from the housing and Catholic children schools built on the valley for the other workers. Only convicts with a record of good behaviour would qualify for this redemption scheme, as the works site was considered to be a low security environment. The motto used by the Spanish Nationalist government was "el trabajo enoblece" ("Work ennobles"). Some sources claim that by 1943, the number of prisoners who had worked at the site reached close to six hundred.[8] Other sources claim that up to 20,000 prisoners were used for the overall construction of the monument and that forced labor took place.[9]

According to the official program records, 2,643 workers participated directly in the construction, some of them highly skilled, as required by the complexity of the work. Only 243 of these were convicts. During the eighteen-year construction period, the official tally of workers who died as result of accidents during the building of the monument totaled fourteen.[10]

The socialist Spanish government of 2004-2011 instituted a state-wide policy of removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces, leading to an uneasy relationship with a monument that is the most conspicuous legacy from Franco's rule.

Political rallies in celebration of the former dictator are now banned by the Law of Historical Memory, voted on by the Congress of Deputies on 16 October 2007. This law dictated that "the management organisation of the Valley of the Fallen should aim to honor the memory of all of those who died during the civil war and who suffered repression".[11] It has been suggested that The Valley of the Fallen be re-designated as a "monument to Democracy" or as a memorial to all Spaniards killed in conflict "for Democracy".[12] Some organisations, among them centrist Catholic groups, question the purpose of these plans, on the basis that the monument is already dedicated to all of the dead, civilian and military of both Nationalist and Republican sides.

Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen[edit]

On November 29, 2011 the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen, formed by the Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on May 27, 2011 under the Law of Historical Memory and charged to give advice for converting the Valley of the Fallen to a "memory center that dignifies and rehabilitates the victims of the Civil War and the subsequent Franco regime,"[13] rendered a report[14] recommending as its principal proposal for the Commission's stated end the removal of the remains of Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen for reburial at a location to be chosen by his family, but only after first obtaining a broad parliamentary consensus for such action. The Commission based its decision upon Franco having not died in the Civil War and the aim of the Commission that the Valley of the Fallen be exclusively for those on both sides who had died in the Civil War. In regard to José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Falange Española, the Commission recommended his remains should stay at the Valley of the Fallen, since a victim of the Civil War, but relocated within the Basilica mausoleum on equal footing with those remains of others who died in the conflict. The Commission further conditioned its recommendation for the removal of the remains of Franco from the Valley of the Fallen and the relocation of the remains of Primo de Rivera within the Basilica mausoleum upon the consent of the Catholic Church since “any action inside of the Basilica requires the permission of the Church.” Three members of the twelve person commission gave a joint dissenting opinion opposing the recommendation for the removal of the remains of Franco from the Valley of the Fallen claiming such action would only further “divide and stress Spanish society."[15] The Commission additionally proposed for its report creating a "meditation center" in the Valley of the Fallen for those not of the Catholic faith, the names shown of all Civil War victims buried at the Valley of the Fallen who can be identified on the esplanade that leads into the Basilica mausoleum and an “interpretive center” be built to explain how and why the Valley of the Fallen exists. The total cost of the proposed changes to the Valley of the Fallen was estimated by the Commission at 13 million euros.[16] On November 20, nine days before the issuance of the report of the Commission and ironically on the 36th anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco, the conservative Popular Party won for the 2011 General Election absolute majorities in both Spain’s lower house, the Congress of Deputies, and Senate.[17]

On July 17, 2012, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, Vice President and Spokesperson of the government stated during parliamentary questioning the Popular Party government of President Mariano Rajoy had no intention of following the recommendations of the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen with respect to the removal of the remains of Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, the relocation of the remains of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera within the Basilica or otherwise since the government considers the report to lack validity in that the Commission was “monocolor” for which the Popular Party was not invited or involved and that in light of Spain’s present economic crisis, discussion and opinion as to the Valley of the Fallen would not be considered at this time.[18][19][20]

On October 10, 2012 a motion of Basque National Party Senator Iñaki Anasagasti made before the full Senate calling for the removal of the remains of Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen as recommended by the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen was rejected by the Popular Party majority. Together with the motion to remove the remains of Franco, the Popular Party majority also voted down an amendment by the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party for the creation of a parliamentary committee to seek a consensus for the implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen. In a speech at the time before the Senate in defense of his party’s no votes Popular Party Senator Alejandro Muñoz-Alonso argued there is no consensus at present in Spain for implementing the recommendations of the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen and even the Expert Commission unilaterally formed by the Zapatero government was not unanimous, and the matter is now totally exhausted for having been raised eight times before the Parliament; and, then closed for his remarks by quoting from the bible saying, “let the dead bury the dead” for urging the Senate in light of Spain's economic crisis to return to addressing the "problems of the living."[21] [22] [23]

On July 8, 2013 a motion before the Senate of Catalan Agreement of Progress (ECP) to implement all recommendations made unanimously by the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen; that is, all recommendations with the exception only for the removal of the remains of Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, was voted down by the Popular Party majority.[24]

On August 5, 2013 the Popular Party government by letter to Socialist Party deputy and former minister Ramon Jauregui reaffirmed its position that the recommendations of the Expert Commission for the Future of the Valley of the Fallen would not be carried out since doing so absent in the view of the Popular Party government a consensus in Spain for such action would "needlessly reopen old wounds." In regard to the expenditure of nearly 300,000 euros to restore the facade of the Basilica also questioned by former minister Jauregui, the Rajoy government further stated for its correspondence such expenditures are justified since aimed at ensuring the monument is well preserved and to prevent deterioration and possible risks to visitors.[25][26]

On November 4, 2013, Vice-President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria again stated the Rajoy government will reject due to the lack of a consensus among Spaniards concerning the future of the Valley of the Fallen any legislation or request which would seek to remove the remains of Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen for reburial at a location to be chosen by his family and further questioned the urgency for that legislation again presently introduced before the Parliament calling for the removal of the remains of Franco since during the entire seven year term of the Zapatero government no attempt was made to so change the Valley of the Fallen.[27][28][29]

Closure and reopening of the monument[edit]

In November 2009, Patrimonio Nacional controversially ordered the closure of the basilica for an indefinite period of time, alleging preservation issues also affecting the Cross and some sculptures.[30] These allegations were contested by experts and the Benedictine Order religious community that lives at the complex, and were seen by some conservative opinion groups as a policy of harassment against the monument.[31] In 2010, the Pietà sculpture group started to be "dismantled" with hammers and heavy machinery, which the Juan de Avalos trust feared could cause irreparable damage to the masterpiece. As a result thereof, the trust filed several lawsuits against the Spanish government .[32] At the time, several parallelisms were made by conservative and liberal groups between the dismantling of the Pietà under the Socialist Party government of Zapatero and the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan by the Taliban.[33][34]

Following the November 2011 Spanish General Election, on June 1, 2012 the conservative Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy reopened the monument to the public with the exception only of the base of the cross, in the past accessible by cable car or on foot, which will remain closed to ascent while the sculptures of the four apostles and the cardinal virtues forming part of the base of the cross are presently under engineering review and restoration for cracks and other deterioration.[35] Beginning on June 1, 2012 the charge for entry to the monument had been 5 euros. The 5 euro entry fee was anticipated to generate around 2 million euros a year if the Valley of the Fallen once again attracted 500,000 visitors annually, the approximate number of annual visitors before closure of the monument in 2009 by the Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.[36][37] Starting on May 2, 2013, and over the strong objection of the Association for the Defense of the Valley of the Fallen, the entry fee for the monument was increased from 5 to 9 euros.[38][39][40] Prior to its closure in 2009, the Valley of the Fallen was the third most visited site of the Patrimonio Nacional after only the Royal Palace of Madrid and El Escorial.[41] For the accommodation of visitors a cafeteria restaurant located in the cable car building of the monument has been opened.[42]

In popular culture[edit]

The Valle de los Caídos appears in Richard Morgan's 2002 novel Altered Carbon, where it is being used as a base of operations for one of the major antagonists, Reileen Kawahara.[43] It also appears in the 2010 Spanish comedy terror film The Last Circus (Spanish: Balada triste de trompeta). Graham Greene's 1982 novel Monsignor Quixote uses a visit to the Valle to illustrate the competing political and social attitudes to Franco's reign and the status of his tomb in modern Spain.

There is also a large reference to this monument and the laborers who built it in Victoria Hislop's book The Return. A number of rock crosses, free-standing outdoor stone crosses are to be found in Kerala churches of southern India, many of them from pre-Portuguese times that look exactly like the Valle de los Caídos rock cross but much smaller, of a height of 15–35 ft. But it is possible that these free standing pillars or Nazraney Sthambas employing the socket and cylinder technique to fit the shaft to the base piece and the arms to the shaft and finally the capital to the arms, altogether a four-piece work of precise architecture may have influenced the Spanish missionaries and scholars.[44]

In 2013 has been released in Spain the film All'Ombra Della Croce (A la Sombra de la Cruz)[45] directed by the Italian filmmaker Alessandro Pugno.[46] The film tells the secret story of the children of the chorus who sing every day in the mass.[47] They live in a boarding school inside the monument and receive an education that tries to resist the drift towards secularism and scientism of contemporary Spain and of global society.[48] The film has been awarded with the first prize for the best documentary at Festival de Málaga de Cine Español.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diario de la Sierra (10 February 2010). "Una decisión polémica: Ordenan el cierre del Valle de los Caídos por tiempo indefinido". Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "El desmontaje de 'La Piedad' del Valle de los Caídos, a 'mazazo limpio'". El Mundo. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  4. ^ "Images that show how the sculpture is being destroyed". 
  5. ^ Libertad digital (10 November 2010). "Valle de los caídos: cerrado por orden gubernativa". Retrieved 11 November 2010. 
  6. ^ "La Cruz monumental". 
  7. ^ Spain reclaims Franco’s shrine
  8. ^ Cesar Vidal. "Como se realizó el Valle de los Caidos"
  9. ^ EJP
  10. ^ Dr. Cristina Rodenas, "Valle de los Caidos, Cronologia" ABC,September 15, 2008
  11. ^ "Boletín Oficial de las Cortes Generales, 16 de octubre", report about the resolution voted at the Congreso de los Diputados
  12. ^ [1], Times on-line
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  14. ^
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  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Una decision Polemica, ordenan el cierre del Valle de los Caidos por tiempo indefinido" Diario de la Sierra November 2009
  31. ^ Pio Moa "El Valle de los Caidos y los Talibanes" Libertad Digital, February 14, 2010
  32. ^ [" "Juan de Avalos's son claims against demolition of his father sculpture"]. 
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
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  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ Morgan, Ricahard K. (2002). Altered Carbon. Del Rey Book. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-345-45768-4. 
  44. ^ Menachery, George (1973). St. Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India. 
  45. ^ All'ombra della croce
  46. ^ El Pais 17 March 2013
  47. ^ Deutsche Welle
  48. ^ Synopsis All'ombra della croce

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°38′31″N 4°09′19″W / 40.64194°N 4.15528°W / 40.64194; -4.15528