MADRID—At General Francisco Franco’s graveside, discussion is lively. Around the tombstone of the Spanish dictator, laden with floral offerings and gazing up into the granite arches of the Valley of the Fallen’s vast basilica, visitors hold forth over the fate of the man who has been buried there for more than 40 years.
“They should not remove him,” one middle-aged woman protested to me recently, puncturing the air with a sharp finger, referring to the government’s recent decision to exhume Franco from the monument he himself dedicated and rebury him in a less exalted location. “He was good and he was bad. But he was our history, and I am Spanish,” another insisted.
A businessman in his 70s was visiting with his grandson, the first time he had been to the site in more than four decades. Proudly declaring “Our family is Franquista, and we don’t hide it,” he said he wanted the child to see Franco’s resting place before what he described as “this nonsense” takes place. “I have nothing bad to say about Franco,” he added, asking to remain anonymous for fear such views might spark a backlash against his business.
The many Spaniards who revile Franco tend to stay far away from the Valley of the Fallen, the vast, surreal monument outside Madrid where thousands of those killed in the Spanish Civil War are interred along with its victor. Its 150-meter-high cross is visible from miles away, looming starkly over what is often referred to as Spain’s largest mass grave. The remains of more than 33,000 people who fought on both sides in the 1936–39 conflict are buried here, transported—many without permission—from other sites after the valley was finished in 1958. Their graves, unlike Franco’s, are unmarked, and the identities of more than a third remain unknown.