On November 8, 1936, the coup party against the Second Republic began what was intended to be the final maneuver to take Madrid by force and with one blow: an aerial bombardment by Franco’s aviation, the Condor Legion of Nazi Germany and the Aviazione Legionaria of Fascist Italy. An attack supported by ground artillery from Casa de Campo and Cerro de los Ángeles, which General Varela had occupied a few days before.
Martínez-Almeida will install a six-meter Legion sculpture in the Plaza de Oriente
The bombs continued to fall on the civilian population until February 1939. More than two years of siege that destroyed 2,203 buildings in the capital and affected more than 30 hectares of urban land. The scars of that atrocity can still be seen in a few streets and walls of historical buildings of various kinds, but it is impossible to interpret them without adequate knowledge: there is not a single monument, no plaque, or reminder of all that destruction.
Instead, the city has memorials dedicated to the victims of jihadist terrorism or this pandemic that we have not yet overcome. Madrid also boasts monuments to The Last of the Philippines, and six-meter, twenty-ton sculptures that pay tribute to the Legion, a strike force created by Millán Astray, recognized by historians as the most cruel of the Spanish civil war.
“It is the only great misfortune that Madrid has suffered that has absolutely no monumental memory or pedagogical resource for the citizen. More is known on May 2 that this happened not so long ago,” says Enrique Bordes, architect and co-author with Luis de Sobrón from Madrid bombed: cartography of destruction 1936-1939. A very complete, graphic and very careful analysis of what happened in the city, when one looked at the sky with fear, day after day too.
A book (and a map) to remember the urbicide of Madrid
The bombing of Madrid is described by the Complutense professor Gutmaro Gómez as “the first modern bombing of a big city”, although there are not many traces of it. “Madrid has hidden its wounds and there are hardly any members of the generation that witnessed those events,” writes in this book the also member of the Research Group of the Civil War and Francoism.
In 2019, the architects and disseminators Luis de Sobrón and Enrique Bordes – also author of the essay Comic, narrative architecture (Cátedra, 2017) -, they produced a cartography with the help of the Office of Human Rights and Memory, which studied the impact that the bombs had on the planimetry of the city. The project reported the degree of destruction of the buildings and demonstrated the strategic planning of the bombings itself. It mapped the available data on the cartographic base of the cadastre, georeferencing the claims according to the layout of the city in 36.
In his first two weeks in office, the current mayor of Madrid José Luis Martínez-Almeida closed that office considering it a “transmission belt of sectarianism”. The project that the architects carried out was saved in the City Council’s repository of posters and the matter was not discussed further.
“We believed that this investigation did not deserve to be kept in a drawer,” Luis de Sobrón tells elDiario.es. “It would be very unfair because that work, among other things, was to recognize and remember the work of firefighters, police, photojournalists and civil society that fought to safeguard Madrid in those days.” “We are architects, not historians, so our main narrative tool is the plans,” adds Enrique Bordes. “In that cartography we expressed through a single image what fell in this city from 36 to 39.”
Two years later, the Cátedra publishing house has rescued the work of both with the publication of a book that documents what happened during the urbicide, accompanied by a more complete cartography than the one carried out and published at the time by the Carmena town hall. “Since then, we have documented 600 buildings more affected by the bombings,” says Sobrón, because “the plan is an open and not definitive document. It is the result of current documentary sources: if new data emerge that expands what we know about bombing, it must evolve. ”
The forgetfulness of the resilience of the Madrilenians
The two architects have carried out this research because they consider that Madrid has a pending account with its past: the historical forgetfulness is palpable if we talk about this historical period. And in addition, it constitutes “an anomaly” with respect to neighboring countries in the words of Sobrón. “Spain is an anomaly in itself because how many fascist dictatorships survived the Second World War?” “That the one here was kept for forty years explains why so little is known about what happened in Madrid: it is something that was hidden, it was tried to bury so that no knowledge of it remained, and it has taken another forty years for these things start to come to light. ”
From 36 to 39 Madrid is systematically bombed with technical means, a rhythm, succession and intensity not seen on a large population until then. They are facts about which there is documentation that is not easy to find. “The documentation process has been a lot of arduous and a bit of carom because many of the documents that we have rescued were not where they were supposed to be”, Luis de Sobrón is sincere. “Others, we have simply found by chance, such as the access we had to the Historical Archive of the Madrid Fire Department thanks to meeting Juan Redondo, an officer of the fire department.”
“We have reconstructed a crime in this investigation, a crime against humanity”, describes Enrique Bordes. “And with all that we have found, the most direct thing is still missing: the military documents. There are not the military records of those who bombed, nor the records of the Madrid City Council of the people who were documenting what happened. Hopefully they will appear one day. It is almost the reverse of what is happening in other European cities. ”
There are extensive studies of other massacres perpetrated in cities such as London, Conventry or Dresden. There are also plans and reconstructions of the bombs dropped on other European cities of similar size such as the one that can be seen in the Correr Museum in Venice or in the Department of Urbanism and Housing of the Senate of Berlin. Especially noteworthy is the work of the Bomb Damage Maps Prepared by the London County Council.
They are cities in which there is a true “institutional and collective awareness of what happened,” according to Enrique Bordes. “The Bomb Damaged Maps are a source of pride for their citizens, and are available not only in a web version but in a space for memory linked to UNESCO. These spaces are key to understanding the city and planning its reconstruction”, explains the architect and co-author of the book. “The ideal would have been that the shot we made would have been publicly linked to Madrid instead of hiding it.” According to him, this book and this research are “a reflection of the strength of resilience of the population of Madrid and the tremendous dedication of its public services.”
An idea, that the silence about the bombings comes to put a gag on what the people of Madrid lived through, in which Professor Gutmaro Gómez abounds. In his book Siege History of Madrid in the civil war, he wrote: “the ultimate cause and effect of the need that the Franco regime had not only to defeat the defense of Madrid, but to erase the memory of a resistant city.”