A trip to the Valley of the Fallen is not for the weak-willed. The centre of Valle de los Caidos is dedicated to the people, who died between 1936 and 1939, during the times of the Spanish Civil War. On one side of the conflict, there was the National Front. On the other, the military nationalists, led by the infamous General Franco. One side was supported by the USSR and Mexico, while the other, Franco’s, was aided in the form of weapons and ideology, by Hitler and Mussolini.
Nearly 34 thousand Spanish people were killed throughout the duration of the Civil War. In order to preserve the memory of those who died during these, atrocious for any nation, times, in 1940, Francisco Franco ordered to construct a memorial – the Valley of the Fallen. The place was chosen on purpose. The memorial centre’s construction began near the Escorial, the symbol of power and shrine of nearly all Spanish kings. Therefore, the excursion to the Valley of the Fallen is usually combined with the visit to the legendary palace.
Another black page of the memorial is the history of its construction. This gruelling, but low-paid work, was given to the imprisoned. Those, who agreed to accomplish this burdensome “mission” to the Valley of the Fallen, could count on a reduction of their imprisonment period if of course, they survived.
The works on erecting the centre were begun in 1940. Pedro Muguruza, Franco’s favourite, was appointed as the head architect. In 1950, he was replaced by Diego Mendez. The construction was finished in 1958, and on April 1, 1959, the opening took place as well as the first official excursion to the Valley of the Fallen.
The memorial dedicated to the soldiers fallen during the Civil War, presents itself as a gigantic hill, with an enormous cross constructed on its summit. Right next to it, a basilica is carved out in the nearby rock. Behind it, there’s a hotel and a monastery for the St.Benedict’s monks, whose responsibility is to take care of the centre and to receive those, who planned a long visit to the Valley.
The visitors begin receiving the impact of the grandiose memorial already while approaching the Valley. A picturesque road leads to the foot of the mountain with the Holy Cross. Halfway to the centre of the composition, the voyaging pilgrims are “met” with four granite columns, carved out by the locals in 15th-century. Next, for those who came to visit the Valley, a choice is presented – to climb on a funicular or to approach the cross by foot, repeating the way of the fallen soldiers and prisoners who worked in its construction.
The cross itself has 150 m height. In its body, an elevator is installed. Those, who go up on that elevator, pass through the first basic square with the figures of apostles-evangelists, and then the second one, where the sculptures depicting basic Christian moral virtues. From the top of the cross, it is possible the entire esplanade of the Valley of the Fallen, the Escorial and Madrid’s surroundings.
Another object worth visitor’s attention is the crypt or the lower, underground church. It is literally carved out inside the rock. Its length is around 260 meters. The entrance is shut with a bronze door, which is one of Carlos Ferreira’s masterpieces. Next, there are bars with the images of 40 saints and six chapels, decorated with the scenes of the Apocalypse. The altar inside the crypt of the Valley of the Fallen is a granite cave with a dome, decorated with a ceramic mosaic. The road to the altar is guarded by eight granite statues and at its both sides there are entrances into the chapel, where the remains of the fallen of the Civil War are located.
In general, Valley of the Fallen is a place of fanaticism, regular meetings of the Francisco Franco’s followers, supporters of totalitarian regimes and right-wing organisations, nowadays political demonstrations are prohibited. Finally, there are frequent discussions whether should the memorial be given a status as a statue to the victims of Franco’s regimes. However, nothing takes away the grandiose architecture and its intimidating appeal. As much as cruel history as it has, the Valley of the Fallen is definitely a sight to see when visiting Madrid.