Work is due to commence in the small Spanish city of Teruel to construct a new museum that will focus on the history of the country’s bitter civil war. According to the Spanish press, this will be the country’s first national museum dedicated to the conflict. Fought between 1936 and 1939, the Spanish civil war was a battle between right and left in which other countries played their parts, too. For many, the war was a precursor to the Second World War in which new tactics were deployed for the first time, notably Nazi Germany’s Condor Legion of airborne civilian attacks.
Spain lived under the rule of General Franco until his death in 1975. As such, the events of the 1930s when he assumed dictatorial control of the country have not yet been properly explored in a museum. For some Spanish people, especially many of the families who suffered under his rule, the present day has been too close to that time. However, since Spain has been a democracy for decades, it was considered that the time was now right to curate a national museum about this part of the country’s history.
In fairness, there are many small museums in various parts of Spain dedicated to parts of the Spanish Civil War. Some deal with the events surrounding individual battles while others tell the stories of exiles who fled the country once Franco took over. With some political disputes that have remained in the country to this day, attempts to open a national museum on the subject of the civil war have always been thwarted by one group or another. Spain’s left-wing minority government has pushed through changes in the legislature of the country, however, that aims to make ‘democratic memory’ something that is enshrined in law. Last October, it passed legislation that it said would help the entire nation to heal its wounds by facing up to – and better understanding – its past.
Opposition and Legacy
Despite opposition from right-wing politicians, notably Santiago Abascal – the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party – funding for the museum was agreed upon. Some €6m has been set aside for the construction of a new museum site in Teruel. Seen by some as an unlikely location for a national museum – the city has a population of only 35,000 inhabitants – Teruel was close to some of the bitterest fighting of the entire conflict. Situated in the eastern region of Aragon, it is far from the usual tourist trail. However, Teruel was the scene of much devastation during the extremely cold winter of 1937-38 when overnight temperatures got to as low as -20C during the fighting.
Famously covered by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who reported events at the time, the battles around Teruel accounted for a high death toll of some 140,000 combatants. Indeed, the British novelist and political satirist, George Orwell, was shot during the battle while fighting for the republican forces, sustaining an injury from which he nearly died.
Expected to open for the first time in 2025, the new national museum will focus on all aspects of the war, not just the events close to Teruel. Joan Santacana, a historian involved in the museum, said the creation of a new institution focussing solely on the conflict would help future generations to come to terms with how the country descended into civil war and what the ramifications of doing so again could be. “In Spain, discussing war has traditionally been seen as controversial,” Santacana said.
The professor, who is a leading researcher in the field of didactic and interactive museography, said that what he and others were trying to do is to curate a museum that prompts people to ask why and how the war happened. “There will always be people who will not accept a particular version of the civil war,” he added, alluding to the opposition to its creation among the country’s right wing political parties, some of whom think Franco’s legacy should be venerated.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.