May 14, 2021

Archaeologists will enter the Valley of the Fallen to study the shacks of the relatives of the prisoners

At the end of April, and if the Ministry of Culture grants the last necessary permission, a team of nine archaeologists and a historian, led by the CSIC archaeologist Alfredo González-Ruibal, will start a campaign that will represent the first step of the resignification of the Valley of the Fallen. For a month they will excavate the remains of the shacks where the families who accompanied the prisoners who built the monument to Franco, between 1940 and 1958 lived.

Year I in the Valley of the Fallen after Franco's exhumation: "With what this was, now it looks like a Berlanga movie"

Year I in the Valley of the Fallen after Franco’s exhumation: “With what this was, now it looks like a Berlanga film”

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“You have to de-sublimate the space. Right now the monument reproduces the same symbolic order and the itinerary designed by the architects Pedro Muguruza and Diego Méndez. It is essential to put the workers, their wives and children who lived and worked in the work in the foreground and to displace the protagonism of the monumentality of the complex. It is a space of trauma, not of celebration and that is how it must be told ”, Alfredo González-Ruibal told this newspaper.

Archaeologists want to rescue from oblivion the marginal spaces related to repression, social control and work, placing special emphasis on the domestic spaces of the imprisoned and dependent population. It is the hidden history of the Valley. Despite the extensive bibliography on its construction (Slaves for the homelandby Isaías Lafuente; The true story of the Valley of the Fallenby Daniel Sueiro; The last Spaniards of Mauthausen, by Carlos Hernández), hardly any documentation has arrived regarding these constructions that were demolished before the inauguration of the place. “They were doubly denied for being women and Republicans. They were the psychological support of the imprisoned husbands and the breadwinners of the family. Putting the women and men who built the Valley in the foreground is essential to deconstruct the epic narrative of the dictatorship ”, adds the scientist.

These makeshift structures were located in the vicinity of the workers’ barracks. Now there are only open fields. But in the visit that archaeologists made last July to the four villages (also known by the name of the construction companies, Molán, Banús, San Román, etc.) they already found and without excavating some remains of the privacy of the inhabitants. Soles, women’s shoes, combs, inkwells used by children for their schoolwork, bottles or cans of preserves. Vital stories that are claiming to surface. Archeology has the symbolic power of unearthing a history other than the one published and disseminated.

González Ruibal is a specialist in undoing the most conflictive historical account, that of the Spanish civil war. Three years had passed since the last time he went to Cuelgamuros, before returning last July. In 2017, the security guards guarding the National Heritage monument expelled him from the Benedictine abbey for trying to enforce the law and avoid a tribute to the dictator. It was a Saturday and he withdrew a bouquet of flowers that minutes before a man had placed on the grave of Francisco Franco, accompanied by the fascist salute. Many years earlier, in 2006, he brought back to life the barracks of the Bustarviejo (Madrid) penal detachment, the forced labor camp with which the Franco regime ended, between 1944 and 1952, the Madrid-Burgos direct railway lines.

“There is buried a story about which we know nothing. People of all kinds passed through those barracks and shacks, from generals of the Republican Army to intellectuals and workers. We want to recover the stories of their women and relatives, of their children. We need to study Franco’s violence, not only the executions, but the punishments and repression. It is a rare phenomenon. The excavation will try to repopulate that valley without heroes or martyrs, with workers, mothers, women and children. It is important to extract The Valley of the Fallen from the Imperial Route where it is still maintained, with places linked to the monarchy, to place it where it should, in the traumatic memory of this country ”, says the CSIC archaeologist. Remember that in a novel of her novels Carmen Martín Gaite observes the barracks and shacks of the prisoners who work on the construction of a dam.

The team of scientists will comb with a metal detector, first, the villages of La Entrada, Central and Monasterio (Molán, Banús, San Román) and extensively other points of interest related to the history of the Valley during the Civil War and the period of construction of the work (civil and military infrastructures). Then, once the activity areas and garbage dumps related to the barracks and workshops have been located, they will review the latrines and landfills. “They usually provide very relevant information in detention centers, including personal belongings of the prisoners,” says the archaeologist.

Days before resigning, last week, as Managing Director of National Heritage, José Luis Masegosa signed the authorization for the archaeological intervention. The project has received aid of 12,000 euros in grants for the recovery of democratic memory and the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship. And the objects found in the archaeological excavation may be exhibited in an interpretation center or in any museum space that is designed within the Valley, the archaeologists point out in their proposal, to which this newspaper has had access. Alfredo González-Ruibal anticipates the future that the State Secretariat for Democratic Memory has planned. The important thing is not to change the name of the Valley of the Fallen, what matters is to change its meaning.


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