Heritage & Memory: Culture & the Cult of Franco in Tortosa

What happens when ‘heritage’ hurts? What happens when a historic monument erected by a dictator and bearing his symbols brings the darkest ‘memories’ to its viewers? And what happens when it is in a public space and in violation of the Law?
The Ebro River runs slowly, lending its charm to the Catalan city of Tortosa. High above the river, an eagle -that seems prepared to attack- casts its shadow, the eagle of Franco!
In the middle of the river, an ugly monument scars the face of the Ebro River and defiles Tortosa’s skyscape: Monument of the Ebro Battle, commemorating the decisive 1938 battle that sealed the fate of the Spanish Civil War and gave way to one of the worst dictatorships in modern Europe: Francisco Franco (d. 1975).

The 1966 monument is a grim reminder of the alliance between the altar and the throne, as represented by the cross and the imperial eagle of Franco. The monument clearly defies the Historical Memory Law of 2007, which provides for the removal of the Franco-related symbols from public spaces.

Why is this fascist monument still standing then? Apart from the political reasons, I am interested in the cultural ones. Those who call for maintaining the monument claim that it forms part of the history of Spain, and that it bears witness to an important chapter that changed the course of history. Moreover, they hold that the monument is a homage to the fallen victims of both sides (Nationalists and Republicans), and hence, it is neutral.

The presence of the Franco symbols defeats the argument about neutrality, while the aesthetic value of the monument is more than questionable. From a heritage viewpoint, I cannot possibly think of this monument as an icon of identity, neither would any grandchild of a war victim think of it as such!

Destroy the monument? Not necessarily, just move it from here. Move it to a curated space or build a museum to house it along with other ‘objects’ for those interested in its historic or aesthetic value, but do not keep it out there for everyone to see and shiver with grief and indignation.

Still, the politicians in Tortosa do not want to remove (or move) the monument. Maybe they should go on a guided tour in one or more of Spain’s ghost cities (like Belchite), whose relics still stand after being bombarded by Franco and his allies…or will these relics be razed one day so as not to ‘remind’ people of what Franco and his regime did to Spain?

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