A striking monument to those who lost their lives during the Spanish Civil War, the Valley of the Fallen, or Valle de Los Caidos, is a poignant dedication to the 40,000 victims whose remains lie buried beneath. The immense structure features a basilica and tomb complex set in a mountain valley north of El Escorial and is topped by an enormous 500-foot-tall stone memorial cross – allegedly the tallest monument of its kind in the world and visible for miles around.
The impressive site is an admirable achievement, but one not without controversy. In fact, many dispute the nature of a monument that only commemorates two names – the Nationalist dictator General Francisco Franco who commissioned the monument and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Fascist Falange – believing the monument to be a one-sided tribute to the victorious, rather than a sign of post-civil war reconciliation. Also under contention is the fact that the monument, erected in 1959, was built by forced labor under the dictatorship of General Franco, taking thousands of political prisoners over 18 years to complete and costing many their lives in the process. Despite the controversy though, the memorial remains one of the country’s most dramatic cenotaphs and walking through the underground crypt is a harrowing reminder of the bloody battle.