What next for the Valley of the Fallen?

In what was an historic day for Spain, the remains of General Francisco Franco were removed from the tomb that lay beside the altar in the vast basilica and transferred to a more discreet grave in a municipal cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid.

What next for the Valley of the Fallen?
What next for the tomb of Franco now that he is no longer there? Photo: AFP

But without El Caudillo, what next for the Valley of the Fallen, the controversial monument carved out of the living rock on a hillside 50 km from Madrid?


Topped by a 500ft granite cross, the complex includes a Benedictine monastery with resident monks and a Prior who takes mass every Sunday.

What about the rest of the bodies?

The tomb of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, the Spanish fascist party, still lies in pride of place beside the altar, opposite the space now left vacant with the exhumation of Franco.

This means that the site will still be a place of pilgrimage for Spain's fascists, who used to hold rally's there every year to mark the death of Primo de Rivera on November 20th until such demonstrations were banned. 

Members of the Falange party march holding the Falange flags towards the tomb of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish right-wing movemen. Archive photo: AFP

tThe crypts at the Valley of the Fallen contain the remains of some 34,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War, many transferred from roadside graves where they were shot by Francoist forces, their bones jumbled together in boxes.

The Socialists won their decade long battle to finally exhume the dictator, overcoming legal hurdles placed by Franco’s descendants but what of the remains of those whose families have been fighting to have them identified and returned.

Campaigners have long called for the exhumation of graves at the site and for the remains to be returned to the descendants of those who were killed fighting for democracy.

Emilio Silva, founder of the Association for the Recuperation of Historic Memory argues that this must now be the priority.

“They should have removed the remains of Primo de Rivera and actually do something to help those people who have loved ones buried there,” he said.

Families like those of Manuel Lapeña and his brother Antonio, Republicans who were shot by Francoists in the early days of the war, dumped in a mass grave in Calatayud and then dug up years later and reburied in the Valley of the Fallen.

In 2016, a court finally approved the exhumation of the brothers and two others but the family are still waiting for access.

“We are going on for four years now while the family wait for that court order to be followed,” bemoaned Silva. “That is called prevarication.”

The process of identifying the remains of those within the crypts is a difficult one.

A team of archaeological and forensic specialists would need to access the monument’s vast ossuary and search through the bones, using DNA from surviving families members to identify them.

A time consuming and costly venture.

Turn it into a museum

The basilica is hewn out of the living rock. Photo: AFP

There is nothing at the site, which is open to the public and costs €9 for an entrance ticket, that informs the visitor about the nature of its construction or about all those buried within it.

In fact, it was built using forced labour. Republican prisoners were drafted in to dig the site out of the granite mountainside where they lived in work camp conditions on site. Many died during construction before it was finally completed in 1958. Estimates range from 15 (according to regime officials) to 27,000.

At the very least, argue campaigners, it should be turned into a centre for information about the regime which provides an accurate account of its history.

The Socialists outlined their plans in 2017: “The Valley of the Fallen will become a national centre of Memory, a place to promote the culture of reconciliation, democratic collective memory and to provide dignity and recognition to the victims.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reiterated this view on Thursday, hours after Franco was reburied in Mingorrubio cemetery when he said:

When it reopens, the Valley of the Fallen will mean something very different: it will be a memorial to a pain that must never happen again, and a tribute to all the victims of hate.”

Plans to transform the site into a place of reconciliation and healing have been put on hold until after the general election but the most likely scenario is that an international competition for ideas will be held.

Could it ever be a centre for reconciliation?

For many Spaniards, the place will never be associated with anything other than the glorification of Franco, whatever attempted transformations are made.

Some feel that not only should not a cent more of public funds be spent on maintaining the monument but that it should be left to fall into ruin.

Demolish it

Podemos have called for the site to be transformed into a memorial park, eliminating all the “fascist symbols” and desanctify it as a religious site. Most notably the leftist political party want to see the 150metre granite cross pulled down.



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Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner