Archaeologists to uncover the lives of Valley of the Fallen prisoners' relatives

Excavation campaign will focus on the barracks where families lived

2 min
Francisco Franco visits the Valley of the Fallen in 1940

Franco's delirium of building the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos, in Spanish) would not have been possible without the labour force: hundreds of workers, including, until 1950, a large number of prisoners of the prisoner redemption programme who had to cut a lot of stone. Very little is known about them; there is not even a clear figure on how many imprisoned and free men worked at Cuelgamuros. But all that may change in the near future. An archaeological campaign of the Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC), which will begin on April 27, wants to rescue from underground the daily life of the men, women and children who lived in the shadow of the Valley of the Fallen for almost 19 years.

At the end of May 1940, the first work barrack was planted at the top of the mountain and on July 31 the decree creating the Council of Works of the Monument to the Fallen (Consejo de Obras del Monumento a los Caídos) was promulgated. The works were not finished until 1958 and the inauguration took place on April 1, 1959, and greatly enriched the companies involved: San Román, Banús and Estudios y Construcciones Moláns.

A history without documents or photographs

"The campaign wants to focus on the barracks where the workers' families lived, because we know almost nothing about them", says archaeologist Alfredo González-Ruibal, director of the project and CSIC archaeologist. González-Ruibal calculates that there must have been half a dozen barracks. "Architecturally, they would be similar to those of the concentration camps: large collective dormitories, elongated, with a tile and uralite roof", says the archaeologist. "Plans of these barracks have been found and there are aerial photographs, but not of the barracks where the families lived". Basically because they were tolerated, but not legal constructions, erected by the workers and their families. "We have found documents that call for their demolition in 1950 and two years later they recalled that they had not yet been demolished. Therefore, we know that they existed during these years, but there are no plans", González-Ruibal explains.

This excavation would be a small part of the project that has to change the discourse on the Valley of the Fallen. "We want to give value to the ordinary people who built the mausoleum, explain their daily lives and we are working simultaneously with the archives", says the archaeologist. With pieces of clothing, kitchen utensils, toys and inkwells, tins or remains of food, they want to try to explain how they slept, what they ate, what the children did, how they studied... In short, what life was like in a place so far away from everything, where there were no barbed wire fences and the prisoners were not guarded by a large number of civil or military guards, but from which very few escaped.