Valley Of The Fallen

“I want to piss on his grave” Pete snaps. Franco still stirs emotions, 38 years after death. “But it’s a beautiful place and a remarkable monument” Marisol said, ” We should see it.”
We are on our way back to Madrid from Escorial. It is a grey, cold spring morning. We drive towards the Guadarrama Mountains past a bull ranch where fighting bulls are bred for la corrida brava and in to the wooded Cuelgamuros Valley where 40,000 of the 1930s Spanish Civil War dead are buried. The tarmac road runs through the woods and in the distance, the 150 metre cross stands stark on a granite outcrop, dominating the landscape.
We parked the car and walk up the narrow path, past the restaurant and the souvenir shop, towards the monument. It is midday but the restaurant is empty and the shop is shut. There is nobody about. A cold wind blows from the valley and I shiver. The massive Neo-Hererrian monument is 150 metres below the cross and looks towards distant Madrid, across the valley below. The Basilica of the Holy Cross is hewn out of a granite ridge below the cross. It is dimly lit. The Neo-Habsburg double-headed eagle is prominent on the wrought-iron gates and two angels with swords stand on either side. A passage way through the mountain links the basilica to the monastery on the other side. Buckets placed in little groups collect water dripping from the stained ceiling. Warm air blows in to the cavernous interior through a grill on the floor. A guard eyes us suspiciously and follows us into the basilica.
The painting on the dome is simple but bright. The tomb under it is marked Francisco Franco and there are red roses on it. On the opposite side lies Jose Antonio, the founder of the Falange. Everything looks quietly elegant.
“Its not bad” Pete says as we walk down the path to the car. It is a moving monument and Franco didn’t ask to be buried there. Valley of the Fallen is well worth the detour from El Escorial.

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