Continuity and inertia

After the arrival of democracy, attempts were made to unveil and expose the ideological and political processes behind the monument. A striking example was Daniel Sueiro’s 1976 book El Valle de los Caídos: los secretos de la cripta franquista (The Valley of the Fallen: The Secrets of the Francoist Crypt). Later in 1983, an episode of the well-known Spanish television debate La Clave, directed by José Luis Balbín, was devoted to the Valley. However, broadly speaking, after Franco’s death, the monument entered a gradual phase of memorial inertia with a lower public profile.

Despite protests in some quarters, the Valley’s iconic commemorations – including religious and political remembrance celebrations on 18 July (the anniversary of the 1936 coup which sparked the Spanish Civil War) or tributes to Franco and José Antonio each 20 November – continued to take place every year in a context of virtual normality, albeit in an increasingly marginal way and with declining interest in the media, until the new Historical Memory Law banned any political act at the site in 2007.

Up until that point, despite fluctuations in the pro-Francoist celebrations at the monument, there were no changes of note in the Valley’s legal status or mode of operation. In political terms, after the dictator’s death, the Valley became one of the favourite sites for Francoist nostalgics, although the celebrations on the concourse and in the basilica were on a smaller scale than the acts organized in Madrid’s Plaza de Oriente.

In parallel, the Valley consolidated its position as a tourist attraction close to the capital for both Spanish and foreign visitors with no links to the nostalgia-driven groups for whom it was a political beacon. This trend, which began in the later stages of Francoism, was reinforced by the inauguration of the funicular railway in 1975, just a few months before Franco’s death. It was often visited as one of a set of sights in the region, like the Monasterio of El Escorial, or even on tourist routes that took in nearby cities like Segovia or Toledo.

In recent years, a new kind of visitor has also reached the Valley, associated with what has come to be known as “dark tourism”, a practice on the rise: individuals or groups of travellers include on their itineraries a series of sites, memorials and museums connected with wars, battles, catastrophes, human rights violations or broader traumatic memory processes. Visits to famous cemeteries or graveyards where famous figures are buried are a case in point.

In Spain, another example is the derelict town of Belchite, a Zaragozan village promoted by Franco as a “martyr town” left in ruins, unreconstructed to serve as an example. Some researchers consider the Valley belongs to a category known as “dissonant heritage”, as part of a “difficult history”, referring to sites that are the subject of social debate and, as such, of interest to tourism.

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