After 40 years closed tightly and completely, the inner walls of the part of the Cárcel Vieja de Murcia – the old provincial prison – will be open again after Christmas. The current government team, made up of PSOE and Citizens, has announced the inauguration in the coming weeks – predictably, next January – of the area of the building that was the entrance to the penitentiary and that will house a cafeteria, a multipurpose room, another of exhibitions, a souvenir shop and some offices. The second phase of the project -which will affect the central part of the building and the north wing- is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2023. It is a work that includes 3,700 meters and for which an investment of 7, has been allocated. 5 million euros. It is in the central part of the building where the Town Hall – which inherited the project from the previous government team of the PP and Citizens – plans to allocate a space to Historical Memory. One of the proposals is to maintain one of the cell galleries so that visitors can learn about the living conditions of the prisoners and the prison life of the prison that was in operation for 52 years, from 1929 to 1981.
“The proposal that comes out of the City Council is very weak, a building like the Old Prison could have many more memorial uses,” criticizes Diego Jiménez, president of the Murcia Historical Memory association. In 2017, the jury of the preliminary draft competition for the rehabilitation and putting into use of the building of the old provincial prison in Murcia unanimously designated ‘Muros etéreos’ as the winner. Its author was the Murcian architect Manuel Hernández Jiménez, founding partner of IH Arquitectos.
The government of PSOE and Ciudadanos in the City Council, which ousted the PP with a motion of censure nine months ago, inherited the Old Prison project, leaving little room for maneuver. “The PP was already talking about allocating a space to historical memory, now what they have done is to specify what that space will be like, but it gives us the feeling that the past of the building, which was a torture center, is being trivialized a bit”, Diego Jiménez points out, who gives as an example the old Oviedo prison, “which has mostly been used for historical research.” You cannot take the risk, he warns, of forgetting what that place meant “where 500 people were shot, the last in 1948 – a man from Yecla – and where many prisoners died of hunger, tuberculosis and suicides between 1939 and 1945” . Municipal sources, however, have assured this newspaper that the part referring to Historical Memory “is still to be defined.”
The rehabilitation actions approved under the mandate of the PP envisaged the demolition of the walls and the incorporation of the courtyards into the city, as well as the opening of restaurants, shop-exhibitions, assembly hall, offices, museum, workshops, auditorium , civic center and library. On July 20, 2020, the walls of the Old Prison began to be demolished to undertake the rehabilitation works of Phase I.
From the Association of Historical Memory -which met with the current government team in June- they ask for greater participation in the proposals for the prison space, “we have been in the gap from the beginning and we believe that our opinion can be useful; what we demand is that we as an advisory entity be allowed to participate with our proposals and enrich their proposals “.
1,300 executions and 290 graves in the Region
For dreaming, says Diego Jiménez, “it would be a luxury if the entire prison were destined to a space for the defense of human rights as has been done in Santiago de Chile.” And he adds that the Association has a proposal from Professor Pedro María Egea Bruno, which contemplates -for example- allocating a part of the former prison to the study of democratic memory, making known the documentary bases referring to historical memory, ” such as the catalog of graves in the Region during Franco’s repression, in which 1,300 executions and 290 graves have been recorded “; in addition to all the documentation from 36 to 82, until the victory of the PSOE, “collect all those scattered files at the local, provincial, regional, national and even international levels.”
Among the proposals, “another interesting idea” would be to have an archive of the word that collects testimonies from relatives of reprisals in those years, donation of materials by individuals and groups; promote a research center on the Civil War, the Franco dictatorship and the transition; organize exhibitions, talks and seminars or make visible the list of Murcian reprisals such as the 84 deported to the Nazi death camps. “A memory center is something more than what the City Council proposes.”
Jiménez also points out that an audiovisual document could be viewed – “there is already a video made for this purpose” – in which the living conditions of the prisoners were explained: “We know that there was space for 400, but that it came to house 4,000 people crammed into cells. ”