Tag Archives: Spain Civil War

Favourite Places in Spain, Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha

“…Sigüenza, ninety miles from Madrid, remains a quiet spot in an empty landscape.  It sits among narrow valleys celebrated by Camilo José Celar in his ‘Journey to the Acarria’”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

I am sharing with you my favourite places in Spain; last time I was in the north in Cantabria and today I am two hundred and fifty miles south in the town of Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha…

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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Travels in Spain, Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

Palau Nacional de Catalunya

The train from Montserrat arrived back at Plaça d’Espanya in the middle of the afternoon and this was our chance to take a look at another famous district of Barcelona – Montjuïc, a flat top mountain area which overlooks the port and the city.

The Plaça d’Espanya was included in the plans for the expansion of Barcelona in the mid-nineteenth century and was laid out with wide boulevards and six main roads all converging on the centre of the square where there is a monumental statue surrounded by a Baroque colonnade.  It was completed in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition which was held in this area of the City.

The statue at the centre is designed as an allegory representing all of Spain. Three sides with sculptures that symbolize the three principal rivers of the Iberian Peninsula,  Ebro, Guadalquivir, and Tagus, around the central sculpture, three decorated columns which symbolise  a Spanish/Catalan self-assessment of the qualities of themselves as a Nation – Religion, Heroism and Arts.

Plaça d'Espanya 2

The Plaça d’Espanya is a busy roundabout, on one side is the old bullring, now a shopping centre (because bull fighting is banned in Catalonia) and on the other are two bell-towers known as the Venetian Towers, on account of the fact that design and construction was heavily influenced by St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.  From there a walk up a gentle gradient towards the imposing structure of the Renaissance style Palau Nacional, built in 1929 as the main exhibition hall and today The National Art Museum of Catalonia.

This is a lovely part of Barcelona that has a national and international ambiance with architecture borrowed and copied from across Europe and with buildings designed to give a representation of all of Spain.  A shame then that large areas of it were destroyed in the calamitous Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939.  Fortunately everything is now rebuilt and restored in the original style.

To illustrate this, at the centre of this Spanish showcase, next to the Palau Nacional, is an attraction called Poble Espanyol, built in 1929 and still there now as a tourist attraction.  I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities.  For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.

Poble-Espanyol-2

The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like.

An interesting thing about the attraction is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop? So, I have looked it up; apparently the research designers were unable to organise a visit to the Canary Islands for economic reasons and LaRioja didn’t exist as an Autonomous Community of Spain until 1980.

We stayed around the area for a while but it was too late to visit the museum or the shops of Poble Espanyol so we stopped for a drink in the park and then made our way back to the metro.

Magic Fountain Barcelona

The route took us past a cascading waterfall and four ionic columns originally erected in 1919 to be a symbol of the Catalan Nation and its aspiration for self-governance and independence (the columns represent the stripes of the Catalan flag). The originals were demolished in 1928 under the orders of Madrid but were rebuilt in 2010. I understand the symbolism of the columns but to be honest I found them to be a little inconsistent with the area and a bit jarring on the eye.

Not so the adjacent Magic Fountain which was providing a fountain display where the water was dancing and leaping into the air with a cycle of changing routines. The fountain was commissioned to replace the four columns in time for the National Exhibition. It is a great spectacle but the best time to see it is at night time when the fountains are accompanied by a light show and music.

We weren’t staying close enough to return later (mid-June and not getting dark until quite late) so instead we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening and instead of the fountain took night time pictures of the Sagrada Familia as an alternative.

Montjuic Columns

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Travels in Spain, Alicante Castle and Memories of the Spanish Civil War

Prisoner Engraving Alicante

A visit to any castle is not complete without a descent into the dungeons.  Alicante is no different and the visitor route includes a visit to a dark chamber where as many as fifty prisoners were held during the Spanish Civil War. The information boards are not specific but they most likely were Nationalists because Alicante was a Republican stronghold and the last city to fall to Franco’s forces in March 1939.

One by one it is said that these prisoners scratched their names into the stone using a single nail which they passed around (must have been a strong nail)  – graffiti which can now be found set into the floor of one of the castle’s highest terraces.

As a student of the past it is always an experience to come across something like this – genuine history left behind by the people that made it.

Alicante Civil warAlicante Castle prisoner graffiti

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Spanish Civil War

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Mortar Damage

“Does the bloodshed of 1936 mean that the traveller can no longer relax at a café table in Sigüenza?  If so he cannot relax anywhere in Spain.”  –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

After a long day in the car no one said a great deal but I am fairly certain everyone was pleased to be back in Sigüenza.  It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining so we did the obvious thing and walked to the bar on the Plaza Mayor and ordered some beers.

As the memory of the pointless journey began to slip into instant obscurity and as we sat and chatted amongst ourselves I looked around the Plaza and paid more attention to the details.  The colonnaded façade of the Town Hall, the weathered stone symbols over the doors – the heraldic emblems of previous owners, the street signs, the metal railings and the stonework of the tall cathedral as it began to cast its shadow as the sun shifted position in the sky.

Siquenza Cathedral South Tower

We were sitting close to the South Tower which reaches into the blue and has small-fortress like windows at regular intervals and the description fortress-like is rather appropriate because they bear the marks of shell damage inflicted on the building in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The Battle of Sigüenza took place from 7th August 1936 to 15th October 1936 and although it seemed difficult to imagine this peaceful and languid afternoon there was heavy fighting here then.

Sigüenza occupied an important strategic geographical position in a narrow valley on the main road and railway line between Madrid and Aragon and Catalonia.  This is not a surprise, the Romans, the Moors and the Catholic Monarchs of the Reconquista had all previously fortified this place.

Early in the conflict the town had fallen under the control of the Nationalist insurgents but was liberated by Republican loyalists in late July and the town came under the control of the left-wing extremist ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’ or POUM (a Trotskyisk organisation allied to the Left Opposition in Moscow against Stalin) and the Anarchist elements of the Republican army who were a dangerous and incendiary mix of discontented and revolutionary trade-unionists, communists and anti-clerics.

Sigüenza now became a victim of the ‘Red Terror’ which was a period of Republican atrocities during the Civil War including the killing of tens of thousands of people including many members of the Catholic clergy and the desecration, burning and looting of monasteries and churches.  After taking control of the town Republican forces turned their anger against the religious hierarchy and structures, they celebrated their success with a blasphemous procession through the streets and then set fire to the Cathedral of Santa Maria.

During the Civil War twelve Bishops were killed, the first was the seventy year old cleric in Sigüenza, murdered by firing squad along with the Dean and the Chancellor of the Diocese, their bodies burned and hastily buried a couple of kilometres outside the town and left to be discovered by advancing Nationalist troops.  A further sixty or so people quickly suffered a similar fate.

In September the Nationalist army was ready to attack as regulars and crack Foreign Legion troops manoeuvred into position, an air bombardment further damaged the cathedral and the town was completely surrounded.

Reinforcements turned back because of bad weather and failed to arrive and the situation quickly became critical for the defending troops.  Losses were high and eventually the three hundred surviving militiamen and four hundred civilians took refuge and fortified themselves in the Cathedral (I wonder at this point if they regretted burning it down?)  They held out for a week as Franco’s superior forces overran the town but eventually were obliged to surrender, some of the militia tried to make a run for it but they were all gunned down trying to escape.

Siguenza Cathedral Civil War Spain

The Nationalists took control of the town but the Cathedral was almost completely destroyed by a combination of the vandalism of the Republican defenders and the ferocious bombardment of the Nationalist besiegers. It was rebuilt, repaired and restored in the 1940s.

All of this was of course in complete contrast to the serene atmosphere of the late afternoon as families sat together in conversation, young lovers walked hand in hand and visitors stopped every so often to point a camera and eventually the sun began to dip and we finished our second drink and then left and made our way back to the hotel because we hadn’t left ourselves long to change and get ready to come back out again to watch the Semana Santa parade which I previously posted about here.

Semana Santa Holy Week Siguenza 3