Friday, July 30

The recovery of anti-aircraft shelters from the Civil War: an incentive for tourism and historical memory

The Civil War populated the cities of the Republican zone with air raid shelters to protect the civilian population from bombardments. Cities such as Barcelona or Valencia suffered the bombs of the Italian aviation and the Passive Defense Board started the construction of these spaces underground (more than 300 in the city of Valencia).

After decades of neglect, more and more shelters are coming to light, in many cases adapted by public administrations to encourage visits from neighbors or tourists. In fact, this same week, the Alicante Provincial Council, in the hands of the PP and Citizens, has agreed to join the policies of musealization of places of memory, as established by the regional law on the matter.

The works around the Central Market of València unearthed a refuge, unknown until now. At the El Grau Secondary Education Institute, on Calle de Escalante in the maritime area of ​​Valencia, they have cleaned up the school shelter that houses the center. As in Argelita (Castellón), a town that has recently restored its refuge, which is already visited by visitors. And in Novelda (Alicante) they have found a gigantic refuge with the capacity to protect about 4,000 people.

The chance discovery, while some workers were trying to locate a water leak in Goya Street, has rescued from oblivion the largest refuge in the Alicante town, built in an arms factory and that, in the postwar period, was transformed into a prison.

Mado Abad, Councilor for Culture and Historical Heritage of Novelda, is studying together with the municipal archaeologist Daniel Andrés, the possibility of restoring the space and turning it into a place for visits. If they can dig further and obtain additional data, they will confirm if it can be accessed, “since there are houses above and, probably, the accesses are closed”, explained the mayor in statements to the regional chain À Punt.

The consistory has carried out locating work on the 13 refuges in the town with a georadar. The underground spaces could accommodate about 15,000 people in a municipality that had just 9,000 inhabitants during the war. These infrastructures demonstrate “the strategic importance of Novelda” during the Civil War, according to the mayor.

The georadar has also made it possible to map the subsoil of Aspe (Alicante) in search of refuges within the framework of a project promoted by the Municipal Historical Museum of the town, with a team made up of archaeologists Felipe Mejías and José Ramón Ortega, as this newspaper reported.

The disseminator José María Azkárraga, coordinator of the Urban guide, Valencia 1931-1939 (PUV, 2010), together with Lucila Aragó and Juan Salazar, is one of the greatest specialists in war shelters in Valencian territory. Azkárraga, who has traveled with his inseparable camera to numerous underground shelters, including those in many private homes in the city, celebrates the new wave of restoration of unique spaces. “They should be opened, but not all of them,” he told

“Now in Valencia the problem is the issue of short hours but we have a public shelter on Calle de Serranos, a school shelter in the City Hall and a factory shelter in Bombas Gens. The problem is that the one on Calle de Serranos opens some A few hours two days a week and it has been closed for a long time, “laments Azkárraga.

Despite the time that has passed, the shelters have been kept in good condition: “Being made of concrete the structure is very well maintained, in Valencia they are all made of concrete given the humidity of the subsoil”. “In other places,” the specialist abounds, “they were made in a mine gallery, dug on the ground,” he adds.

The inscriptions on the walls or the drawings of the children who passed the bombings underground have even been preserved. “What there was is maintained, the painting in some cases. The typical example is that of the Balmes school, there is a deterioration but it maintains all the elements, the electrical and ventilation installation, the benches and the posters painted on the wall giving information, but it is very deteriorated due to humidity, “says Azkárraga, who has recently been able to visit one of the few that had not yet been located on Ruiz de Lihory street, in the heart of Valencia.

“When a shelter is found, which now few will be found, there is the problem that the metal part of the ventilation systems, the staple stairs or any other wooden element, such as the edge of the seats, have deteriorated, but what is the structure and visualization of the space in moments of bombardment are maintained “, adds the popularizer, co-author of Iron storm. Els antiaeris shelters to Valencia, a monograph edited by the Valencia City Council.

Currently, the one on Calle de Serranos, after its restoration, can be accessed on a guided tour. In addition to the refuge of the Valencia City Council, the Palau de Benicarló, which houses the Corts Valencianes, and which was the seat of the Presidency of the Government of the Second Republic between November 1936 and October 1937, has also been opened to the public.

The Lluís Vives Institute, near the North Station, also has a huge shelter, whose access leads to the courtyard of the educational center and which can also be visited. The Balmes school, on Maestro Aguilar street in the Russafa neighborhood, preserves the school shelter built during the Civil War and with the capacity to house up to a thousand children, although it only opens a couple of times a year. The city, brief capital of the Second Republic, gradually recovers the traces of its most tragic history.

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