Geographical location and the Decree of 1 April 1940

The Decree of 1 April 1940, issued a year after the military victory of the rebel troops, gave shape to Francisco Franco’s project to build a vast monument “to perpetuate the memory of those who fell in our Glorious Crusade” [sic]. Irrespective of its foundational and legal status, the rhetoric in the Decree is indicative of the ideological content and nature of the project which the new Head of State was about to set in motion in Cuelgamuros Valley. The decree is of particular significance because it lays down the political and religious basis for the monument.

Three elements are particularly significant. Firstly, the notion of crusade alluded to the alleged grandeur and religious nature of the military victory, equating it with other key moments in the history of Christianity. Expressions like “epic” and “heroic sacrifices” sought to establish the importance of Franco’s military win for the history of Spain, within a new ideological framework that would become known as National Catholicism.

Secondly, the monument, described as a “magnificent temple”, had to match this heroic conception of history emulating the “grandeur of ancient monuments”, and surpassing the scale and ambition of other monuments and memorials under construction. These included the monument inaugurated in June 1939 in memory of General Emilio Mola, one of the leaders of the military coup who died in a plane crash in 1937. The monument in Cuelgamuros was therefore designed to be a place of “meditation and quietude” which must be able to “stand the test of time and oblivion” and evoke an exclusive, proprietary sense of nationhood.

Finally, the decree makes clear that the monument is dedicated to perpetuating the memory of the fallen, the “heroes and martyrs of the crusade”; in other words, the dead who fought on the winning side of a war caused by a coup d’état. There is no hint of a reference to the defeated, who are thus excluded from this great celebration of the ‘Fatherland’ as defined in Francoist terms.

In short, despite subsequent modifications and adjustments, the original project set out in the decree crucially conditions the unequivocally Francoist nature of the monument.

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