The festivals are certainly over in Zaragoza, but there is still enough going on to keep me occupied. Today has been the festival of All Saints day, which is a special occasion for Spanish families. For this reason we have been off work, enjoying a rest from the schools. All Saints day is a special celebration in Spain, and Spaniards use the day off work to visit their dead relatives in the cemeteries. According to El Heraldo, the Zaragoza newspaper, the cemetery in Zaragoza will be visited by over 400,000 people, who bring flowers to the graves of their loved ones. It’s quite an impressive sight, with florists particularly busy over this weekend.
With a few days off work, we decided to take advantage of the free time by relaxing and watching a few films. However, today we decided to branch out further and visit the old town of Belchite. As someone with a great interest in modern Spanish history, I decided that this year would be a good opportunity to visit a few Spanish Civil War landmarks. Living in Aragon means that there are some sites within close distance. Belchite, which is less than 30 miles from Zaragoza, was the ideal place to start off.
Belchite was effectively destroyed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), after two fierce battles. It was a key battle ground between the Nationalists and the Republicans due to its proximity to Zaragoza. With the Nationalists taking Zaragoza almost immediately after the announced coup d’état on 19th July 1936, the surrounding areas in Aragon became strategically important, particularly as the militias of Barcelona were marching into Aragon, after successfully defeating the rebellious generals due to the armed Trade Unions and loyal assault guards.
The Nationalists quick advance in the north in 1937 meant that the Republicans needed to find towns to build counter attacks. In June 1937, the Republicans successfully took Belchite after heavy fighting in the town. The taking of Belchite was part of a bigger plan to take the villages surrounding Zaragoza, with the aim to take the city. However, this never materialised, and the Nationalist were able to regain most of the villages quickly except Belchite, which took longer to regain and came at a big price. The Battle of Belchite (24 August – 6 September 1937), was a hard fought battle between some of the strongest battalions in the Republic and Nationalists zones.
Also in 1938, there was a second battle there due to the Republicans Aragon offensive. This fighting completely destroyed the town. The Republicans regained the village, but the Nationalists were determined to regain it due to losing it. Between 9th and 11th March, the village was attacked for the last time, with the Italian air force running havoc on the town with bombardments. After the intense fighting, nothing was left of the village.
At the end of the war, the old town was left untouched as a monument to the fallen Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. It was a reminder of the horrors of war, and the destruction that it causes. Franco ordered the rebuilding of the village next to the site by prisoners of war, whilst the destroyed site remained a warning to any opposition that Franco and the Nationalist were victorious. When the new town was inaugurated in 1954, Franco reminded the people that the Nationalists had defended Belchite and Spain from Stalin and a communist takeover, and that they had been the saviours of Spain.
For more information on this battle and the battle of the Ebro, I would suggest Anthony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain (2006). Firstly, we visited the new village, which is a typical, quiet little town. Then we headed to the old to town. The site is very impressive, mainly because the village has been left completely intact. The rubble and marks on the walls from gunshots are still clearly visible. The monuments that have been erected are clearly for the Nationalist side rather than a reconciliatory gesture. If anything, I was not particularly impressed with the graffiti that seems to be a continuous ideological battle between the extreme left and the extreme right.
However, Belchite is definitely worth a visit due to its peculiarity. There are not too many villages that have been left untouched after such destruction, and this certainly shows how bad the fighting was during the Spainsh Civil War,and the mentality of Franco in the post war, with the village a monument exclusively for the Nationalist dead, rather than the horrors of war.
On 20th October, ETA definitively ended its armed campaign. Earlier in the week there had been a conference in San Sebastian attended by international statesmen like the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who urged ETA to give up their arms. Although the move has been met with some scepticism, there are many relieved Spaniards and after over 40 years of fighting, things are moving in the right direction. It will be up to winner of the elections on 20th November to decide what action to take next with regards to the terrorist organisation.
Also, the General elections are getting closer now. With only 20 days to go, the PP seems to be unstoppable. Although Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the PP, has refused to give press conferences or speak to the press, they should win an absoloute majority. There is one televised debate on Monday (7th November), but the gap between the PP and the PSOE is far too wide for it to have too much of an effect.
Unfortuantely, the weather is getting worse, and it looks like I will have to start wearing a coat to keep warm. However, I don’t know how I am going to survive in England in December.