Postcard from... Madrid


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The Independent Online


In Spain, there are only a handful of museums specifically dedicated to chronicling the events of its Civil War.

However, Cerro Pelado, one of the most important battlefields, some 80 kilometres north of the capital of Madrid – mostly hidden away in dense woodland on a steep-sided hill – should soon become much more familiar to the general public.

In the early days of the war, in July 1936, control of the Cerro Pelado was vital both for the attacking Nationalist forces and the defending Republic: the hill has a commanding position above Madrid’s only reservoir – at the time – of Puentes Viejas.

Without water, the Republicans would have been forced to surrender the capital. Instead, they held Madrid until the Civil War ended, in April 1939.

After the initial battle ended in stalemate, both sides dug in, and a sizable number of command posts, machine-gun nests, trenches and bunkers were created. Only two small fortresses, visible from a local road, were well-known – but now a further 25 have been identified.

The buildings are all in an excellent condition. In some places the names of the units that defended them and Nationalist symbols are visible. It is even possible for history buffs to stumble over empty 80-year-old, ration tins as they walk around.

After so many years, Madrid’s regional government has created a heritage trail around the battlefield, which should open in the next few weeks. A small but significant chunk of Spanish modern history will finally come into view.