This is one bizarre and eerie sight not to be missed even on a pleasure trip to Madrid: General Franco Tomb & Mausoleum (El Valle de los Caidos). A looming cross and vast tunnel cut into the granite of Madrid’s Sierra de Guararrama mountain range. Created to be a monument to those who died in the Spanish Civil War, you’ll see that the Franco Tomb has more to do with only one bloke who never got that near the front line. Imagine St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome mocked up in the studios of Flash Gordon.
This is neo-classicism gone seriously comic book. The Franco Tomb is generally regarded as a crude piece of monumental self-aggrandisement in the awful architectural taste of the twentieth century’s most crackpot megalomaniacs and dictators.
The architect, Diego Mendez (who went on to become a household name…in his household) aimed to blend potent symbols of the two pillars of Franco’s doctrine: Catholicism and military might. That’s why you’ll see grotesque angels with swords, cowled biblical figures (with hands like Sepp Maier – with gloves on), and vast eagles built from granite blocks (amongst a catalogue of other faux pas). Death is certainly evoked, but at the hands of the Ming Dynasty! And Franco himself was anything but Flash.
Walk the 250 metres into the basilica that was chipped out of the granite by prisoners of war (officially the world’s longest Catholic Cathedral) and you’ll see Franco lying at rest. Above him towers an equally bizarre and oversized granite cross (about 100 metres high) that points towards Madrid and can be seen from the city itself.
Even today there are apologists for Franco in Spain. His images are still being removed from the streets and the minds of modern Spain. Although he didn’t get the trains to run on time, some argue he held the Spanish nation together under the threat of political and moral fragmentation. Also, Real Madrid won the European Cup six times under “Tio Paco”. Judge for yourself!