The 'Valley of the Fallen' in the mountains outside Madrid. (Efe)
The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has decided to reopen the Valle de los Caídos to the public after three years of closure, a decision that tears up that of the former Socialist government to close it and ignores recommendations from a report by an expert commission on the memorial’s future.
'The Valley of the Fallen,' a huge stone monument over those who died in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which is also the tomb of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco who governed Spain for four decades until his death in 1975, stands in the mountains outside Madrid and can be seen from a far distance.
The controversial monument was closed in December 2009 by the former government under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, because of the need for reparation works, according to the Patrimonio Nacional, the national heritage agency.
Since then, however, the monument has remained closed to the public, but was reopened to visitors again on June 1. The Santa Cruz abbey, which is situated in the memorial site, however, has made an exception in order to hold religious services.
Ignores recommendations by expert group
In November last year, an expert commission that was appointed to draw up recommendations for the future of the memorial site, concluded that an investment of about €13m would be needed for the reparation works. Because of the economic crisis, however, the current government chose to make a minimum investment only to comply with safety measures to be able to reopen the site.
What is most striking about the reopening of the monument is that the government has decided to ignore the report by the expert commission, which recommended the exhumation of Franco’s remains inside the basilica.
The commission also recommended alterations in the way the monument is presented to visitors, by for instance, opening a center for visitors that would include descriptions about the origin of the monument in a more complete way, including descriptions of the socio-political environment in which it was constructed during the Franco dictatorship.
A controversial issue
The issue is controversial in Spain, where the debate about how to present the country’s history heated up under Zapatero’s time in government (2004-2011), not the least following the introduction of the historic memory law that came into effect in 2007, opposed by Rajoy’s centre-right Popular party, at that time in opposition.
Current Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, when asked in the Senate in February about the future of the Valle de los Caídos, said that it is “difficult” to take any decision about the memorial site.
She said it is difficult to understand the recommendation by the expert commission that any measures taken should stem from a consensus, given that not even the commission could agree over the future of the dictator’s remains.
The memorial site, which is also the burial-place of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange party, the only party allowed during Franco’s dictatorship, received over 360,000 visitors in 2009 and gained about €1m a year before it was closed. Visitors will now have to pay €5 to enter.
This article was translated and edited by Stina Lunden.
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