This Week In Spanish Civil War History Extra: Siege of the Toledo Alcázar – 21 July – 27 September 1936

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Sketch of the Alcázar above Toledo in 1887

The Alcázar of Toledo was beautifully constructed fortress in the town which was strategically placed on a small hill by a river. First used by the Romans in 59BC, the location ruled over the plains during Roman, Visigoth and Moorish rule. The town was home to Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities living together through the centuries in relative peace. But in 1085 the city fell under Christian rule and the slow decline of the harmony commenced. By 1520, the Alcázar, a palace fortress, was built on the top of the hilltop town by the royal family, and stood until the destruction during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The war started on July 17, 1936 when Franco took over the army in Spanish Morocco and staged an uprising. By the morning of the 18th, strict, religious army leader José Moscardó e Ituarte, the military governor of the area, took control of the Guardia Civil police, and decided to lead and control the hilltop town. Toledo had an arms factory, and the Republican government and its followers battled for days to get their hands on the weapons and gain control of their home. Colonel Moscardo was able to fend off the Republicans with his men, and moves were made for Republican reinforcements from Madrid to arrive. By July 20, killings were already occurring on the streets, with both sides attacking and wounding one another, as in all towns and cities in Spain.

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The grotesque habit of Republicans digging up clergy to show everyone their mortality in Toledo, like everywhere in Spain

Colonel Moscardo had just 800 Guardia Civil officers, around 100 army officers, and the support of 200 right-wing public members. The Guardia Civil had plenty of ammunition to bring to the uprising, but between all these men they only had rifles, a couple of machine guns and a few grenades. Meanwhile, the Republicans in Madrid sent in 8,000 militia men, left-wing supporters banded into groups to save their country, mostly anarchists and workers’ union members. The air force had also sided with the Republicans and were able to fly over Toledo for surveillance and bombing.

Between the call to rise up and claim the city by the rebels on July 17 and the following four days, the Republicans managed to hold off the right-wingers, with only one man arrested as a Republican activist. However, between 100-200 people were taken hostage by the Nationalists, and they including the town’s governor and his family. The hostages and Nationalist families, those belonging to the Guardia Civil men, were put inside the city Alcázar to be safe from the Republicans. This started a siege, with Nationalists trapped in the Alcázar and the Republicans keen to take back their town.

The Alcázar prior to the siege

By July 22, the Republican surge meant the town was in their hands, with the exception of the great Alcázar, which was under bombardment from the air. On July 23, Colonel Moscardo, inside the Alcazar, got a phone call from the Republican leader, Commissar Cabello. They had taken Moscardo’s son hostage, age just 16, and threatened execution. Moscardo told his son to die as a patriot, which young Luis agreed to do. However the Republicans did not yet have the heart to shoot the boy.

For the next three weeks, the Nationalists stayed safe in the Alcázar as the Republicans continued to attack. The insiders only fought when militia fired at the building, or planes dropped bombs from above. Constant bombardment to the strong Alcázar began to weaken the northern side of the fortress. But the constant back and forth of fire, bombs and grenades, meant no one could get close enough to the Alcázar to get inside, not even to the buildings surrounding the building, all of which were still under Nationalist control and huddled together for safety. Sometime in mid-August, Moscardo’s 16-year-old son was shot and killed as the Republican frustrations mounted. Likewise, the hostages inside the Alcázar met an ugly end.

Republicans try to get close to the Alcázar

However, by early September, the northern side of the Alcázar was in collapse, and the Republicans decided to change tactics. In a momentary downing of weapons on September 9, Major Vicente Rojo Lluch, an army man who decided to fight for the Republicans rather than with the army, went to the Alcázar to speak to Colonel Moscardo. Rojo offered Moscardo the chance to surrender and leave the Alcázar but it was refused. Moscardo requested a priest be sent to the Alcázar, as two babies had been born inside the besieged fortress and needed to be baptised. Despite being anti-religion, the Republicans allowed this request.

Inside the Alcázar before the bombing

As the priests of Toledo had been killed or fled the town at the outbreak of war, a preacher from Madrid arrive on September 11 and entered the Alcázar to baptise newborns and offer spiritual guidance to the 1000 strong right-wingers, including final absolution in case of death. Again Rojo offered a surrender, but no one would leave the Alcázar; they would rather die than give up. In retaliation, Republicans fired and threw grenades at the Alcázar, destroying all communications with the insiders.

The Chilean ambassador to Spain wanted to help with the negotiations for surrender, but the grenade launch had wiped out all the phones, and at this stage, surrender was no longer an option for the Nationalists.

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All the while air and ground fire had been sent back and forth, Republicans had been digging tunnels to come up right underneath the Alcázar. By September 18, after a month of digging, the two tunnels were complete and under the southwest tower of the Alcázar. Soon-to-be appointed Spanish prime minister, Francisco Largo Caballero, went into the mines and detonated a huge supply of explosives, which flattened much of the tower. As the dust settled and panic reigned, the Republicans stormed the Alcázar with tanks and armoured cars. Still, they could not get inside the mighty fortress, and constant firing went on for days.

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Explosions destroy the exterior

By September 22, all those inside were in the interior courtyard of the Alcázar, and most of the garrison has also left their posts on the exterior of the building for their own safety. Another two days of fighting made no progress for either side.

Just as the siege looked as if it would end with the slaughter of the Nationalists, reinforcements finally arrived in the city.  On September 27, the Republicans, desperate to get inside, had no choice but to abandon their cause and flee to Aranjuez, 44 kilometres north of Toledo. This large withdrawal left few attacking the Alcázar, as they knew of the danger about to arrive.

The Alcázar is destroyed into a mess

Nationalist soldiers, consisting of Spanish Legionnaires and Moroccan troops (the Moros), had been marching north from Seville, massacring everyone in their path, their reputations already bloody and horrific. On September 27, all it took was the first 100 soldiers to enter the city and kill everyone still holding out. They also murdered the doctors, nurses and patients in the hospital, all Republicans and their supporters. All those inside the Alcázar were released, only five dead, of natural causes.

For all the killing and the destruction of the nearly 500-year-old Alcázar, Toledo as a location had no strategic value. But the determination of the Nationalists was used a propaganda for those fighting in other areas, and the media took a huge interest in the battle. The arms factory, which was raided early in the war, was the only important location in the area, and was now worthless. The weapons and supplies dropped to help the trapped Nationalists could have been better used in other areas, and even Franco’s advisors were upset Franco even bothered to ‘save’ Toledo at all, when Madrid 55 kilometres north was more important.

Interior of the building after ‘liberation’

Those who escaped after being inside the Alcázar were treated as heroes and used as morale boosters. Much had been made of the Republicans’ mine explosion, with media flocking to see the event. But when the Republicans were forced to flee a week alter, and Franco claimed the town, the Republicans plan to show the world their strength instead showed their terrible loss.

Final destruction

As soon as Moscardo and the others left the Alcázar, the soldiers immediately left Toledo destroyed physically and emotionally, and continued their march north to try to take Madrid. The initial stand-off and attacks on Toledo were all for nothing.

Survivors have to live among their ruined town

The restoration of the Alcázar didn’t begin until well after the war ending in 1939, and today houses the  Biblioteca Autonómica (Castilla-La Mancha Regional Library) the and   Museo del Ejército (Museum of the Army).

The Alcázar today

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This is not a detailed analysis, just highlights (lowlights?) of the siege. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

September 26

The Generalitat de Catalunya (government of Catalonia, based out of the capital of Barcelona) increases in size to incorporate more factions fighting for the Republican case. The anarchist CNT-FAI (workers unions) sends ministers, along with the communist POUM (Marxist workers group).

September 27

After a siege lasting over two months, Toledo is finally won by the Nationalists. The Legionnaires and Moroccan soldiers (Moros, as they are nicknamed) who have been murdering their way north, reach the city, and 100 men take Toledo, ending the siege on the Alcázar. A group of anarchists set fire to their own buildings and are burned alive so they are not captured and executed. The invading soldiers take the hospital, killing doctors and nurses, as well as the patients. All the Republican hostages that were taken at the start of the siege by Nationalist leader Colonel Moscardo are already found to have been long killed, and all Republicans are either killed or flee the area.

A full ‘This Week In Spanish Civil War History: Extra’ will be published on September 27

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Generals Verela, Franco and Moscardo in Toledo after the rebels capture the city

Also…

The Non-intervention Committee is doing a stellar job of not doing nothing to help Spaniards, and doesn’t bother to argue with Portugal over their continued support for the Nationalists. Germany and Italy are also sending weapons and equipment in defiance of the Non-Intervention agreement and the committee doesn’t lift a finger.

September 28

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is named head of the Spanish State by the Junta de Defensa Nacional (Nationalist militarised government) in Burgos, even though Spain has a Prime Minister and government still functioning in Madrid.

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Franco: A small man with a heinous attitude and a penchant for massacre (and rumour has it, sporting mangled testicles)

September 29

The Battle of Cape Spartel breaks out over control of the Strait of Gibraltar. The navy has been pro-Republican, but Nationalists have held the Galician naval base since the outbreak of war. A Republican ship is sunk and others badly damaged, and just one escapes the battle as the Nationalists also now control this crucial sea passage.

The Almirante Ferrándiz just prior to sinking in battle

September 30

Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Bishop of Salamanca, publishes his famous pastoral letter titled ‘The Two Cities’. He praises the decision of the rebel Nationalists to rise up and start the war. He defends the actions of the rebels and the need to destroy Republicans. He states the war is not a civil war, but a crusade to restore order and crush the ‘heretics’ in government. He also issues a pastoral latter claiming Franco as Spain’s leader, and sends him a telegram to congratulate him for the ‘glorious resurrection of Christian Spain’.

Enrique Pla y Deniel – a bishop with a small mind and a heart filled with hate and control, Catholic style

October 1

The Brigadas Internacionales (International Brigades) are officially formed. It gives a name and organisation to work with the foreign volunteers flocking to Spain to help out. People from 53 nations want to give their help to the Republican cause against the rebels. The group will swell to up to 35,000 fighters, plus 10,000 non-combat roles and up to 5,000 foreign CNT or POUM members. These brave individuals are true heroes, risking their lives for strangers in a strange land, thinking they can save the world from fascism while governments sit idle.

The famous International Brigades become official

Also…

Francisco Franco officially declares himself the Generalissimo in public, and settles into life as the controller of a country out of control. This formally gives him power over the entire Nationalist cause.

And…

The Republican government gives the Basque Country full autonomy, and Jose Antonio Aguirre is elected as leader of Euzkadi a week later. The Basque country is getting little support or outside help, surrounded, and already partly invaded, by the rebels. Autonomy gives them more control over their moves and their own army as they fight to control their region.

Jose Antonio Aguirre – politician, activist, leader

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 10: 19 – 25 September 1936

Week 10: 19 – 25 September 1936

September 19

The island of Mallorca has been in Nationalist hands again since September 12, when the Republicans retreated away from the beaches of Punta Amer and Porto Cristo, after a month of fighting to regain the island. With all Republican militia gone from the Balearic Islands area, Ibiza is captured by the Nationalists with swift action, with no fighting taking place.

September 20

The island of Formentera, the most southern of the Balearics, is taken easily by the Nationalists. All the islands of the Balearics are now in Nationalist control, with the exception of the northern island of  Menorca. The Balearic Islands are small, but a good strategic location for aircraft to be based, for bombing the coastal cities such as Barcelona and Valencia. Italian planes are primarily based there for such activities heading to the mainland.

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Franco, September 1936

September 21

The leaders of the Nationalist forces (and boy, are there many) come to an agreement that Francisco Franco will be the ‘supreme commander’ of the rebels. He is stylised the Generalissimo. Naming Franco the leader will have a huge impact on the direction and success of the rebels.

Meanwhile, in Toledo…

Ongoing destruction of the Alcázar

September 21

The bombing of the Alcázar has left it all but destroyed. Communication has been cut off between the Nationalists inside and their support outside, and a retreat is made by outside forces, as there is little left to defend. The ongoing battle is symbolic of the war now, and used in propaganda, and so the Nationalists still refuse to surrender.

September 22

The Republicans continue to attack the building and its rubble, unaware that the garrison inside has abandoned much of the Alcázar.

September 23

A 5am raid on the Alcázar surprises the Nationalist garrison inside with dynamite and grenades. The Nationalists are now all gathered in the interior courtyard of the Alcázar, most of the building collapsed around them. Tanks arrive during the morning to continue pounding away at the Alcázar, but returning Nationalist reserves arrive to fight back the Republicans for yet another day.

September 24

Franco decides, against the advice of his German counsel, to delay his siege on Madrid. Instead, with his troops continuing their march north to the capital, Franco decides to send them to Toledo to save those Nationalists inside the Alcázar. The siege has only a few days left, yet will be a bloody battle, slaughter ending its dramatic fighting. The troops of Spanish Legionnaires and vicious Moroccan soldiers are only a dozen kilometres away now.

NB – there will be a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra’ post on the Alcázar on September 27

Damage has made the Alcázar unrecognisable

Also…

September 24

The Nationalist Junta (the National Defense Committee who control and rule over the Nationalist-held areas) decide to annul all the agrarian reforms which have taken place since the February 1936 election, in which the Republican’s Popular Front won. Most agrarian reforms involved the distribution and redistribution of agricultural lands, and rules regarding the rights of rural workers. They’re the people suffering the most, before and during the war, and their rights are once again decimated to nothing.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 9: 12 – 18 September 1936

Week 9: 12 – 18 September 1936

The Nationalists march into San Sebastián

September 13

The Basques surrender San Sebastián as the Nationalists advance after their win at Irún two weeks ago. After the death and destruction of Irún, the people let the Nationalists come in without a single shot fired, but anarchists who are running want to burn the city, as in Irún. The Basques turn on one another to ensure the city isn’t destroyed, and the anarchists are killed. An estimated 30,000 (of a total of 80,000) people flee San Sebastián west towards Bilbao, the Basque Country’s biggest city. The evacuation was planned, but 600 people are murdered by the Nationalists after their victory parade, include the mayor and 17 priests who are loyal to the Basques. The Basque language is also banned.

Also…

The Republican government decide to send some of their national gold reserves to the Soviet Union. The gold will be used as security for future purchase of equipment and materials. While the Republicans need the supplies, they get less than half of the gold’s value in equipment.

September 14

The siege of Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza begins in Andújar, near Jaén, in the south. Around 1,200 Nationalist civilians guarded by Guardia Civil members have been in the hilltop Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza church since August, as the town as been held by the Republicans. The Republicans now begin the battle to take the church and capture or kill the Nationalist supporters on the hill. The Nationalist leader wants to surrender, but is overthrown for another commander, who refuses to surrender, starting the siege. Luckily (for the Nationalists) they are dropped supplies from the air so they can hold out on the hilltop, for what is the first day in an eight month battle.

The Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza before the bombings

September 14

Pope Pius XI speaks out against the the Republican Government for their actions, and its ‘satanic hate against God’ (nicely forgetting all the harm the church has done to the people). Despite the war being almost two months old, this outrage only comes after the murder of Josep Samsó of the Santa María de Mataró basilica in Barcelona. After being imprisoned, he was then taken and executed, a fate given to countless priests.

September 16

The Nationalists take the town of Ronda in the south. Ronda had been under the control of Republicans since the war’s outbreak, and many churches destroyed and priests killed. General Verela takes the town and starts the executions. Many flee to Malaga nearby, still under Republican control, and some flee into nearby hills. Rumours of the fleeing Republicans living as bandits in the hills persist for another 15 years.

The Ronda bridge over the El Tajo gorge. Both sides of the war pushed their prisoners from the edge, and the prison cell in the bridge was used for torture

September 18

Continuing on from last week’s failed negotiations in Toledo (see here if you missed it)…

For the past month, Republicans have been digging two tunnels, mining to get under the southwest tower of Toledo’s famous Alcázar, which has 1,000 Nationalists inside, refusing to surrender. The mines are done, and Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero detonates an early morning bomb, which destroys the tower completely. As those inside cope with the surprise attack, the Republicans launch a four-pronged attack of the Alcázar in tanks and armoured cars. The Republicans still do not get inside the Alcázar, and continue their attack for another night and day with aerial bombing. The Alcázar is now heavily damaged and the two-month siege will soon come to an end.

Timeline of the Alcazar destruction

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 8: 5 – 11 September 1936

 Week 8: 5 – 11 September 1936

If you are new and don’t understand the Basque country, it is an independent region of Spain in the far north. It is (roughly on the above map) the green and two smaller red locations to its left, at top under France. Today it is fully restored to its people.

September 5

The beautiful Basque city of Irún, in Spain’s north, is destroyed in battle. The city is in a pivotal location on the coast, and on the borders of both France and the Spanish region of Navarre. As Navarre is a stronghold for the Carlists on the Nationalist side, the 3,000 Republican fighters need to hold Irún in order to gain supplies from France. Nationalist destroyers and battleships have been bombarding the town for almost a month, and also have planes, tanks and 2,000 well-trained soldiers. German and Italian planes bomb the town, and drop pamphlets, warning the population of mass executions like in the town of Badajoz. Most of the battle takes place on the south side of the city near the Convento de San Marcial, where Republicans fighters, made up of Basque nationalists, miners of Asturias (who are akin to fighting), and communists volunteering from France, are alongside the locals. However they lack training and weapons, with only some guns, dynamite, and eventually reduced to throwing rocks.

Republicans surrender in Irún

Fighting goes on throughout the day, and the Republicans shoot vicious Nationalist Colonel Alfonso Beorlegui Canet in the leg, on the international bridge of Irún (he will die a month later of gangrene). But the Republicans are forced to retreat and abandon their city. Anarchist militia set fire to many key locations in the city as they flee, so they cannot be used by the Nationalists. (This decision would lead to many propaganda scenarios throughout the war, as Nationalists would then destroy a town and say ‘the rojos did it, just like in Irún, despite the fact it was untrue) Many of the population flee either to the safety of France if they can, or retreat further into the Basque country. Nationalist forces can now continue on towards the critical port city of San Sebastian, just 20 kilometres away. The Basque country is already cut off from a rest of Republican Spain and is set to become a guinea pig for German bombers practicing for WWII.

Irún post-siege

September 5 – 6

The battle of Cerro Muriano commences in the province of Cordoba, in Spain’s south. Following the battle in the city of Cordoba in August, outlying areas are now ready to be taken by the Nationalists, with Cerro Muriano just 20 kilometres north of the city. The Columna Miaja, which have up to 3,000 Republican fighters in the region, engage in a 36-hour siege between them and violent Regulares soldiers from Morocco and many Spanish Legion troops. The battle leaves a huge number of men dead in the town. The Republican side is completely eliminated while the Nationalist take the town with few deaths.

The battle of Cerro Muriano includes the moment captured of the iconic ‘Falling Soldier’ photograph by Robert Capa, and will be covered in a ‘This Week in Spanish Civil War History Extra’ post.

Falling soldier by Robert Capa

September 6

Italian aircraft arrive on the island of Mallorca to set up new bases, so they can begin serious bombing campaigns on the mainland, especially targeting Barcelona.

September 8

Portuguese sailors on two navy vessels mutiny against their officers, so they can seize the ships and go to Spain, to help the Republicans. But the mutiny is crushed by men who are loyal to Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. The mutiny only strengthens repression against communism and left-wing ideals in Portugal.

September 9

The first Non-Intervention Committee meeting is held in London. The meeting has 23 countries represented, with only Mexico supporting the Republicans. But because the borders are closed and ships patrol the coast, Mexico cannot give the Republican government support or supplies. Larger South American nations such as Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina support the Nationalists, and Germany and Italy are part of the committee, yet their dictators continue to aid the Nationalists. Britain and France are sitting on their hands like naughty children, the US is trying to keep clear, but Russia want to help communist interests within the Republic.

Meanwhile, in Toledo…

Destruction of the Alcázar over September

September 9

The battle of the Alcázar in Toledo has been running since July 21, with 1,000 Nationalists  trapped inside (and two-thirds of them too young/old/female to fight), while the Republicans are unable to breach the castle walls. Republican Major Vicente Rojo Lluch, one of the most prodigious military left-wing men in the war, walks blindfolded with a white flag to the Alcázar to negotiate surrender with Nationalist garrison leader, José Moscardó Ituarte, 1st Count of the Alcázar of Toledo. The Alcázar is now badly damaged but not yet fully breached, with two of its corner towers still standing. Moscardó has already sacrificed his teenage son to the Republicans in July (who held him hostage and let him call his father while being threatened with death. His father told him to die like a patriot and the son was killed one month later) and refuses to surrender the Alcázar to the Republicans. However, Major Rojo does allow for a priest (hard to find since Toledo’s have already been murdered or have fled) to go into the Alcázar and baptise two babies born inside during the siege.

The destruction of one of Spain’s most amazing sights

September 11

A priest with left-wing views (and thus, not yet murdered) arrives from Madrid. Vázquez Camarassa goes inside to do the baptisms and give absolution to those in the Alcázar. That night, Major Rojo and Colonel Moscardó meet again, to negotiate the release of the 500 women and children. The women refuse to leave, opting to take up arms and die rather than surrender to the Republicans. Overnight, grenades are thrown at the Alcázar, cutting off all communication with Colonel Moscardó, which would make a surrender negotiation with the Chilean ambassador the next morning impossible.

Nationalist women and children participate in the siege

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

This Week In Spanish Civil War History – Week 3: 1 -7 August 1936

Week 3: 1 – 7 August 1936

August 1

France changes its mind and doesn’t want to support the Republicans, after being pressured by Britain, who don’t want to intervene in a war. The two governments, along with Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Russia, forge a Non-Intervention Committee and sign an agreement of non-intervention in the civil war. This will become a major error and huge turning point.

Spanish King Alfonso XIII, who has been in exile for five years, begs Mussolini for help and they send more planes and trained pilots to the Nationalist rebels, paid for by a Spanish billionaire known for illegal and dodgy deals. But two planes crash on their way to Morocco to collect troops, making the news, showing Italy has already broken their non-intervention plan. Still, other major countries sit on their hands and refuse to assist.

sa01-09-001The Non-Intervention agreement

August 2

Troops head out of Seville, having secured the city and made it their southern base, marching towards Madrid, over 550 kilometres away. The leaders plan to attack major areas like Badajoz, Toledo and Talavera along the way.

August 3

The shipment of refugee children is already underway, with children being sent to other European countries such and Belgium, France and Britain for their safety.

Nr:185498 9SP-1936-0-0-A1-35 Spanischer B¸rgerkrieg 1936-39. - Ankunft von Fl¸chtlingskindern aus Spanien auf dem Bahnhof von Gent (Belgien).- Foto, 1936. Photo: AKG Berlin Teutonenstr. 22 / D-14129 Berlin Tel. 030-803 40 54 / Fax 030-803 35 99 Bankverbindung Dresdner Bank Berlin BLZ 100 800 00 Konto 462732500 USt.Id DE 136 62841
Children leave for Belgium

August 4

As the war as broken down much authority, the collectivisation of Spain is strengthening, particularly in Catalonia and Aragon. Workers are grouping together and gaining control of land and businesses, mostly under the guidance of the CNT and FAI anarchist organisations. Worker control is being established, training and education is being given, state and church control is being eliminated, all while looking to defeat the rebels.

300px-Milicianas_em_1936_por_Gerda_TaroWomen start training in the militia outside Barcelona

August 6

North of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama, Josep Sunyol i Garriga, the deputy of the Catalonian Republican left party and also the president of the Barcelona Football Club, is murdered by Nationalist troops. Sunyol is a politician, leader and journalist, having founded a left-wing newspaper in the 1920’s. He was captured during fighting and shot, and then dumped in a shallow unmarked grave (and wouldn’t be found for 60 years. This system of taking left-wing sympathisers, from battles or just their homes, murdering them without a word and dumping them in the wilderness is the start of what will result in 100,000 – 200,000 Spaniards ‘disappearing’, many still not found today).

indexJosep Sunyol

Francisco Franco makes his move, and leaves Morocco and flies to Seville, to be on the ground as his troops continue their bloody march towards Madrid, the start of severe killing through Spain’s south and west.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 8: I Don’t Trust Anyone in Spain… or their Sangria

Blogging has been tough lately. I read about Spain and the posts are mostly about food experiences, or “oh, Spain is so pretty and shiny”, or “Spain is going down faster than a $2 hooker”. What does someone like me, who stands in the middle, post about without sounding like a whiner? It’s impossible.

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A not-so typical holiday snap

I’ve made mistakes in the past, and I’m the first to admit that. Fortunately, Spain is a place that allows people to make mistakes and move on. I once had the opportunity to spend a few years living in Spain, and get to experience being an expat in a country where few of my countrymen and women go to live life abroad. So, when I found myself with the opportunity to have the chance to go back to Spain purely as a tourist, I thought that would be a piece of cake. Turns out I was very wrong.

I first went to Spain in 2005, and landed in Valencia on a hot summer day. After the tidiness of the airport in Auckland, the ruthless chaos of San Francisco, the soulless efficiency of Munich, (the then) basic and dilapidated airport was a real sight. I joked to my husband that it was the kind of the place you expected to see live chickens in cages moving along on the luggage carousel. Imagine the laughter when we heard the call of a rooster only moments later – it turned out to be the ringtone on the phone of our friend who had come to pick us up. With suitcases, prams, portable cots and many other baby items, myself, hubby, and our one-year-old and newborn sons got to see Spain for the first time. Lucky I was 24 and had the exuberance of youth on my side; because after Spanair broke my $1000 double pram, my mood wasn’t terrific. I met another friend at the hotel, who said I could get straight into flamenco classes. Bless him, he had only been in Spain a few months himself, and still full of the joys of expat life in Spain. Of course, Spain wasn’t full of flamenco and sangria – it was real life instead.

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How many friends can fit in one photo for a magazine shoot? Which magazine? Gente in Italy, I think. Don’t quote me

After my complicated permit to live in Spain was revoked in late 2007, I had only just got the hang of Spanish life. There is a beauty of living abroad; you get the reality of living there, combined with only having to take on the customs you choose. You can understand the place, but not be weighed down with a lifetime of expectations or stereotypes. Expats can really live it up; life is filled to the brim with experiences, trips are taken, foods are tasted, wines flow freely, friends are made, and rose-tinted glasses can get you a long way. You also have reality to pull your head from the expat clouds – your health insurance is a constant drama, your language skills always need work, if your gas stops working you know you will wait two weeks for the repair guy to show up, and visiting the bank is an exercise in endurance. Don’t get me started on the hassle of registering a birth of a baby that has foreign parents, and was born in the Alacant region, not the Valencia region, so you need to blah, blah, blah.

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Expat odd moment – because everyone has given money to a billionaire while he wears your homemade apron, that happens all the time

What I learned is that I couldn’t trust anyone in Spain, because as with living there or being a tourist, no two people experienced the country in the same way. One week after I arrived in Valencia, I shared a lift ride with an American woman. Turned out we were going to visit the same friend. Her husband and my husband had come to Spain for the same jobs, and she had been in Spain for several months. She asked me how long I had been in Valencia, and I said one week. Her reply – “give it two weeks before you decide you hate Spain. Everyone hates it, but give it at least two weeks”. (SERIOUSLY – to this day, we still laugh about that). How does that advice help me learn about Spain? It doesn’t. I suspect the reason her husband was a cheat was because he got sick of her complaining. I lived in a community that left me surrounded by expats from many different nations, due to the reason I went to Spain (it was the America’s Cup, that may mean something, it may not. Your call). I had the best of everything in Spain and felt no need to apologise for that. I loved my life there. However, the bubble I existed in was not Spain, it was a lie. It got to the point where many people had no idea about the place, hated so many things and formed a comfort zone around themselves, until we could leave again (note – that’s a generalisation, some people are amazing friends with open minds and hearts). One guy took years to go into Valencia’s old town and then went to the Mercado Central, and had to panic call a friend to rescue him. The notion of Spaniards, speaking Spanish and buying fresh food freaked him out because it wasn’t like home. True story.

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I’ll pass, thanks

About a year into my adventure, two friends were talking. One said “should we go to  (insert generic closed down bar here)”, and the other said, “no way, it’s always full of whining Aussies and Kiwis.” Ouch. I felt relieved to have never gone there. It burst the expat bubble with spectacular success. When I left Spain, I thought I had built up a realistic opinion of the country. To understand the nation and the culture, I studied the history. I grew to understand the politics and the origins of customs (alas, the freedom of time!). I left Spain with double the number of children I started with, and that in itself opens the eyes. An expert on the place? Hell no, it takes far longer to fully understand Spain. It was never my intention to stay away from Spain, but more important things came my way.

Fast forward six years, far more study, novels written and passionate debates abound, I decided to go to Spain for a few weeks just to help me out with writing, to see friends and soak up the ambiance, which I knew had changed remarkably in my absence. So, would it be easier to be a tourist, after knowing so much about the country? This time, would it be all sangria and sunburn? Nope. I fear knowing Spain well only made it harder.

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Valencian manhole cover – as you do

This is why I can’t trust anyone in Spain, because no two people see Spain in quite the same way. If you’re from the UK or Europe, a trip to Spain sounds like nothing much. Everyone does it, all the time. Most go to the same few places, like the Brit and German invasion of the beaches (I hate the beach). I couldn’t read guide books before my trip because a) they suck, and b) I wouldn’t learn anything. After booking my trip, my enthusiasm plummeted. Had I shot my own holiday in the foot faster than King Juan Carlos can take aim at an elephant or family member? But, as I did when I lived in Spain, I decided to grab the opportunity and shake it until its balls hurt. No time-wasting for me!

Talk about mixed feelings. One morning was spent on a tour to El Escorial (yes, a organised tour group – don’t hate me, I’ve done enough self-loathing for us both) and those on the trip seemed to have a good time. They felt like they were educated and saw all the sights. I felt rushed and given info I already knew.

Toledo – you will have to hold a gun to my head to make me visit again. I imagined the battle for the Alcazar during the civil war, but all you will find there are tour groups led around by disinterested chain-smoking guides who don’t take you to the best sights. But who decided which are the best sights? That’s the trouble, the Spain I know and want to see and that of others are totally different. I remembered that piece of my own advice and carried on alone.

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All I could hear was the sound the customs officer would make as he had a heart attack upon my return home

Avíla and Segovia – two places I don’t know well. I met up with a gay couple and a lovely English woman, all on a getaway from work and we had a good day out. Was it Spain, or the people I met? The people and the upbeat attitude.

Barcelona – I felt conflicted the entire time. I went out one evening and had laughs with friends and had a good time. Was trying cheese the highlight? No, it was getting an evil glare of a balaclava covered riot policeman outside the town hall building during a protest. Some people don’t put that in their holiday scrapbook, but I thought it was awesome (until the batons appeared). I was relating to the angry mob who are upset at the state of Catalonia. I got to tour civil war Barcelona and feel like I had received a meaningful connection to a city, but got plunged straight back into Americans complaining outside Starbucks  that the coffee doesn’t taste like it does at home. (Tip – YOU’RE NOT AT HOME) But then, many don’t give a toss about the history of Barcelona, so who is right and who is wrong? No one.

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Romantic postcard image meets reality of living here

Madrid – I wanted to see a bit of civil war-ness and the weather thwarted me. There is still the park, the art museums and the hell that is Gran Via to see, but I didn’t want any of them, though I wandered briefly for specific paintings. I popped into the Dalí exhibit at the Reina Sofia and got crushed by tourists, but then went to their civil war exhibit and had the place to myself (happy dance time). Many other people did enjoy the Prado et al, though. But, the city redeemed itself, in the people I met there. You gain more Spain-ness in a ten minute chat at a bullfight with a guy named Emilio than you can standing in the Prado (Disclaimer, I have ‘done’ the Prado in the past, so whip me with the tourist cane again). I see the Prado paintings and think of them being smuggled to safety during the war and how half a million refugees in France were left to freeze and die while paintings were covered and warm. Does anyone else care? Maybe, maybe not.

Valencia – finally a place where I could breathe! Familiarity with the world’s greatest little city makes a holiday. But do you gain anything out of sangria in a cheap restaurant with English-speaking waiters? So people might, but I didn’t. People flock to the Arts and Sciences, and it’s great, but I feel like I’ve only seen the city when I see a couple kissing in the park (wow, that sounds pervy). Showing a Valencia tourist around the city makes me want to cut my eyes out, but standing at the baseball field watching a portable cricket pitch being set up feels like a good way to spend an afternoon. If I recommend that as a sight to see, people would think me mad.

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Easy little streets to navigate. And by easy, I mean you will never get anything delivered – ever

Cuenca and Teruel – I didn’t give either of these places enough credit. I just didn’t want to visit (is that awful?) I might try Teruel again (with the right people) while meandering out in Awesome Aragon, but Cuenca? No way.

See what I’m saying? You can’t trust anyone in Spain. No two people can see it the same. I went there with no expectation, and found it hard to dig through the shiny veneer of tourism to find what I felt would make a successful holiday. Every time I sipped a sangria, I felt like I had let myself down (because I don’t like it much, a bit meh. Don’t worry, I tried plenty of other drinks too. No glass went undiscovered).

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See? I visited the craft beers, like any good tourist

I Spain I loved –

Buying hairspray at the Mercadona where I used to go food shopping

Sipping wine in Cuenca

Imagining fascist troops in Teruel

Standing the summit sign at L’Oronet

Getting evil looks for talking about Franco in Madrid

Laughing with a maid because we couldn’t get a door open

Taking the No. 19 bus in Valencia

Paying for an umbrella in a Madrid junk shop

The young guy named Carlos at the Cuenca tourist office. He got to try his English, I got five minutes company in an otherwise dull excursion

The Spain I hated –

People who ignore the ‘no photos’ rule! It’s not there to ruin your holiday, they have a reason!

How much Valencia has changed (total foreigner nostalgia moan right here!)

Barcelona – I failed to have anything in common with the place (and I tried!) Though, El Raval was nice

Driving anywhere (and I was only the passenger! Should have gone by train)

Walking around Madrid (the place seems so down on itself these days) Wander Lavapies to wipe out this feeling

Cigarette smoke

Not finding the right mix of alone time and time with friends (yes, my own fault)

The fact my old Valencian neighbourhood is not only devoid of my family and friends, but devoid of all life and soul (thought I was on the scene of a zombie movie!)

English menus (who orders the ironed sepia?)

Complaints from others about Spain (yep, I’m complaining about complaining)

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Oh, it’s that time yet again

I can’t trust anyone in Spain, because they won’t see the place like I do. By that theory, no one can trust my opinion either! You will just have to go and experience it for yourself! Will I go again? Hell yeah, I have no doubt about that. The beauty is, I have the power improve my Spain experience every time I visit, because the country gives so much choice. However you enjoy Spain, all power to you. Pick your holiday companions carefully, because if they see it totally different, you could find frustration under every tapa. A civil war researcher and heavy on the political and economic conversationalist like me can’t enjoy Spain with tea-sipping, bullfight and flamenco inquisitor with the dream of Spanish romance in the orange groves.  Lucky Spain is big enough for all of us!

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When the everyday places are this beautiful, who cares who is right and wrong?

Up next… back to serious posts… Teruel and the back roads of Valencia and Aragon

Click here to see previous posts in the series – Spain 2013 in Review