Apparently Franco (the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 till his death in 1975) didn't want to be buried in the underground basilica at the Valley of the Fallen (el Valle de los Caidos). I don't suppose the 20,000 Republican prisoners who built it, and who were able to "redeem" days from their sentences by working on its construction, were that keen to be there either.
The monument consists of a Benedictine Abbey where the priests recite a perpetual mass for the dead of the war, a 152 metre high stone cross - the tallest memorial cross in the World - and an underground crypt carved into the granite mountain parts of which were left unconsecrated when Pope John XIII declared it a basilica in 1960 to avoid it rivalling St Peter's in Rome as the largest basilica in the World.
Franco had it built "to honour those who fell during the Spanish Civil War" but as Republicans (the defeated Left) were not knowingly buried there till 1958, as the place is plastered with "Fallen for God and for Spain" inscriptions, as the only other person buried inside the basilica is José Antonio Primero de Rivera (founder of the Spanish falange or fascist party) and as the architecture has obvious stylistic links to buildings in Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany the monument is still a tad controversial in a Spain that has just passed a law to ban all tributes to the fascist victory.
The valley is just outside Madrid, in the Cuelgamuros valley, on the route between Culebrón and Ciudad Rodrigo and so Maggie and I thought we'd make a detour and have a look at the place as we travelled from one home to the other.
Political precedents aside the place was spectacular as much for the setting as for the construction. It was one of those crisp, blue sky days. Snow capped peaks, piercing sunlight scenery in sharp relief, ice crunching under foot, breath smoking in the cold and the air smelling of wood and soil. Grey granite isn't a particularly impressive rock but set out a huge open plaza with the stuff, cement it together into heavy giant figures, carve a huge underground temple from it or pile it high into the sky and it does the trick.