Historical oblivion in the Palace of the Dukes of Alba

3,500 square meters. 200 rooms full of furniture and works of art accumulated over five centuries, but without memory. Entering the Liria Palace, the official residence of the House of Alba in Madrid, where the current Duke lives today, is to immerse yourself in its imposing heritage, with paintings by prominent artists such as Velázquez and Rubens or letters in the handwriting of Cristóbal Colon. The kindness of the family and its artistic collection, converted into a museum, focus the visits open to the public since 2019but at the same time they spread an equidistant and complicit vision with Franco's propaganda about what happened to the palace during the Civil War.

Nothing is mentioned about the fascist authorship of the bombing that unleashed the fire that practically only left the building's façade standing, an episode about which the Casa de Alba defends that there are "conflicting theories" in reference to the accusations, in the style of Gernikawhich made the rebel side to the Republicans.

Nothing is told either about the task carried out by the communist militias in the midst of the flames to try to rescue the paintings, tapestries and other works of art that the fire threatened and that were later exhibited by the Government of the Republic in Valencia.

The mansion occupies numbers 20-22 of Calle de la Princesa, one of the main arteries of the city. Built in the 18th century, in a neoclassical style, it is considered the largest private residence in Madrid, in which the large gardens that surround it stand out. These are some of the details that are told in the general visit offered by the palace, a tour of 14 rooms that lasts 65 minutes and in which the contents are explained in two ways: the entire journey is led by a guide from the palace itself and an audio guide carried by each of the visitors.

You only have to wait six minutes from the beginning of the visit for the voice that has recorded the historical and cultural information to name the fire that almost completely destroyed the palace in November 1936. It occurred within the framework of the systematic bombing that the forces German and Italian air raids carried out under Franco's command over Madrid, but the audio guide goes through it on tiptoe. Although at another time he assures that the history of Liria "is intertwined with the history of Spain itself", the truth is that there is a part that remains hidden.

"The social and artistic life" of the palace "is cut short with the outbreak of the Civil War. A fire that lasts for several days devastates the palace. The destruction is devastating."

Almost as if the flames had occurred by accident and not as a product of the bombs and the terror strategy carried out by the rebel side on the capital, these words are the only references to the contest throughout the tour. But the reality is that, against all odds –the then Duke of Alba, Jacobo Stuart, was Franco's ambassador in London–, the palace began to burn at 4 in the afternoon of November 17, 1936 due to the effect of 18 bombs incendiaries, cites the study La historia recovered. Vicissitudes of the Liria Palace during the Spanish Civil War, by Valme Muñoz Rubio.

The ABC newspaper in Madrid, which at that time still supported the Republican government, reported this in their morning edition the next day: "In three disastrous incursions, yesterday the enemy sowed death and havoc over Madrid. Their incendiary bombs produced several accidents. One of the buildings that burned with tragic light was the historic Palacio de Liria." The same masthead, but in its Seville edition, under Franco's command, took the generalized attacks of the day to the front page: "Yesterday the troops of the National Army continued to conquer positions from the Reds, already inside the capital of Madrid , beating and destroying the international column," read the newspaper.

The explanation given by the Casa de Alba Foundation about the lack of mention of the authorship of the bombs is that "it has preferred to maintain an aseptic and neutral position," says a spokesman in response to this medium. The institution assumes that "there are conflicting theories of authorized voices" and ensures that "the evidence handled by historians is not conclusive", for which it was considered "that it was best to avoid any type of controversy". Asked about what these hypotheses are, the foundation points to the fire caused by German or national aviation and another that "defends that it was caused by private individuals to cover up looting."

It is precisely the vision of the attack that Franco's propaganda spread at the time, which wanted to blame the republican militias that guarded the palace. This is how it was written in the report that an architect made for the Duke of Alba the following days and that Muñoz collects in his study, but also in it ABC from Madridwhich, once it came under the control of the Francoists, in April 1939, stated: "Few things are comparable to these atrocious mutilations that leave our old courtly mansions half dead [...] The Marxist hoax spread its weapons around the destruction of the Liria Palace." And he continues: "A false propaganda claimed to be due to a bombardment by national aviation. The truth was repellent: the reds' own voracity was not content with looting the palace, but wanted to destroy it in order to brutally erase the trace of the robbery."

The equidistance on the authorship can also be found by the visitor in Liria when he asks the guides that accompany the tour, as this medium has been able to verify on different days. "There are many theories, it is not known for sure [...] There are those who assure that it was the Nazis, that it was the Reds...", pointed out one of the guides. Another affirms that they were planes by "the Nazis or Franco", although "it is not well known", he adds. When asked if it was the Francoist side, he replies: "It seems to me, that's what they say, but it is not known for sure. " The Casa de Alba Foundation has not responded to the question of this medium about whether the workers receive any specific guidelines on the matter.

Historians, however, have no doubt. "At that time, only the revolted air forces based in Ávila and Talavera and German aviation were bombing Madrid. Both under Franco's command. There is no scientific controversy whatsoever," replies Gutmaro Gómez, professor of History at the Complutense University of Madrid and coordinator of Siege. History of Madrid in the civil war. "It is well known. It was one more bombardment of those that were carried out those days and that affected the Prado Museum or the National Library. It was aviation coordinated with the rebel side that was doing Franco's job, obsessed with taking the capital" , says Antonio Cazorla, professor of Contemporary History at Trent University (Canada).

What is in dispute is what aviation it was specifically. There are those who say, like Michael Alpert, who has studied the intervention of foreign aviation in the war, that it was the Condor Legion of Nazi Germany. Specifically, German Junkers bombers. Alpert assures that the bombs could have fallen on the palace "intentionally" or accidentally, since the bombing technique, through the use of explosive and other incendiary bombs, "had not reached the peak of precision" developed during the Second World War and there were "legitimate targets" relatively close to the Alba residence.

The expert historian in the Civil War and the Franco regime, Ángel Viñas, assures that throughout August and September "the fascist foreign planes were one of the main supporters of the rebels". In fact, the Aviazione Legionaria of Fascist Italy "had already pledged to support the coup 15 days before it broke out." Regarding Madrid, however, he believes that on the date of the bombing of the Liria Palace, the Condor Legion had not yet been formally constituted. "It was a structured force with commands and rules of action that went into action in an organized manner in December." Even so, German planes, "some of which would become part of the Condor," were already attacking Madrid in November, he adds.

There is another outstanding chapter in the history of the Alba residence during the Civil War that also does not exist for guided tours of the palace. And it is that it was the republican militiamen who rescued a good part of its artistic and cultural heritage from the flames.

However, the audio guide glosses over it. "Almost the entire artistic collection is saved by having been guarded in the Bank of Spain, the Paseo del Prado and the British Embassy," the recording reproduces, referring to the transfers of a small part of the works that the Duke of Alba had done previously. Some of these pieces, however, were returned to the palace before the fire by the Republicans.

"Franco propaganda is saying at that moment that the reds are looting everything and destroying culture. In the case of the churches it happened, but the great artistic buildings of the country are protected, both by the Government of the Republic and by the militias, because it is understood that it is the heritage of the people", explains Cazorla.

One of the best examples was that of the Liria Palace, which had been seized by the Communist Party militias a few days after the failed coup against the Republic in Madrid. It was something relatively frequent, as Muñoz describes in his study, which aimed to protect the cultural and artistic heritage and "turn palaces and collections into popular museums".

The pieces were protected with great zeal, "security measures were taken", such as the prohibition of smoking or the safeguarding of the paintings with handrails, and the palace remained open. The Republicans believed that it was the safest place, thinking that the rebels would never attack it. Visits and talks by speakers were organized to the point that it became "one of the most active cultural centers in Madrid," Muñoz cites.

Everything was interrupted by the bombardment, but it was precisely the republican militias that rushed in and managed to save a good part of the artistic and cultural treasure that the palace kept. Several testimonies give an account of this, including that of a house worker who recounted the first hours of the fire: the militiamen first tried to put out the fire, but given its intensity they decided to rescue as much as possible. The paintings were kept in the room considered safest, the one with the telephone; the curtains and tapestries were taken down and, together with the rugs, everything was moved to the garden. Furniture, books, porcelain and silver were also taken there.

From there, the goods were loaded into vans and transferred to two buildings, on Serrano and Antonio Maura streets, occupied by the Communist Party. The task, also admired by people "not sympathetic to the Government", as documented by Valme Muñoz, lasted for several days. The Republic did not take long to incorporate the episode into its propaganda apparatus and carried out a display in the form of articles and brochures with the aim of amplifying "its commendable cultural work," the investigation cites. In fact, part of the works were exhibited in Valencia at the end of the year: "The militias rescue the best works of art from this famous museum from the flames and the Ministry of Public Instruction exhibits before the civilized world the living testimony of the culture saved for the anti-fascist people", read one of the exhibition brochures.

Source link