Day 56 – Belchite – Rest day

 

A cold start to the day – but it warmed up later. No cycling today – just walking.

Well, not really a rest day – I just wanted to try to get a basic understanding of the Spanish Civil War, and Belchite (pronounced Bell-Chee-tay) seemed to be a good place to mull it over. Here’s my idiot’s guide to the Spanish Civil War. No correspondence will be entered into:-

In 1931 “The Left” – a coalition of anarchists, socialists, communists and the like – won power overwhelmingly in a general election, and the king abdicated. The government took education away from the Catholic church, which put the church offside; it introduced land reforms, which put the rich, and hence powerful, offside, and tried to reform the army. Who were not pleased. Various other, equally ambitious social reforms were introduced – such as letting women vote (shock, horror) and free education (even more shock, horror).

In 1936 a right wing (church, rich, fascist, army) leader was assassinated, and the army, supported by the church (this mob known as the Nationalists, led by Franco) tried to overthrow the elected government (the Republicans). For three years they blew each other to buggery, but in 1939, Franco and the Nationalists had “won” – they’d almost destroyed the country to save it, and it lurched heavily to the right – strong church again, military rule, Fascism. The baddies won…… An organised military, against a bunch of anarchists, communists, socialists, and various free brigades of volunteers from everywhere: Who’d have thunk it? Sarcasm…..

Belchite was destroyed in late 1936 in a two week battle between the Republicans and the Nationalists. Franco ordered that the town be left as it was as a memorial to the glory that is Fascism and the Catholic church; A new Belchite was built over the road, and people moved into it – those that were left, anyway; hundreds died – women, children, the elderly, etc… Oh – and soldiers.

The astonishing thing to me is that the Spanish just don’t seem to care, and have just got on with life. Though the Fascists won, it’s not what I’d call a Fascist country – quite the opposite. The Catholic church still has way to much influence, but that’s just my opinion; I’m not at all religious myself.

So – What did the Civil War achieve? Buggered if I know. It gave us Guernica, a seminal piece by Picasso, but doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the Spanish people – women still have the vote, there’s free education, reasonable health care, and society seems to work. It also set the stage for WW II. Sigh. We do like our wars, don’t we?

Back to Belchite. A bloody mess; narrow streets, house to house fighting; artillery firing randomly in from the surrounding hills; All over a small village of no strategic importance.

The old village is now fenced off, and can only be visited on an official tour; t 12:00 noon, and at 4:00pm. It’s been fenced mainly because of the amount of vandalism – spray painting, breaking the memorial in the centre, and because of the fragility of most of the structures – it looks like a strong wind could bring down walls and roofs, and  Health and Safety measures are non-existent. Here’s a few photos. I’m too upset by today to write much more.

bombed1bombed2bombed3bombed4bombed5rush-hourseminary

A mosque, two churches; a school for orphans, a convent and a seminary – all destroyed; nuns, monks, imams, children and a couple of hundred innocents, who just happened to live here when the battle started – all killed. The goat-herd is my attempt at levity.

BelchiteBelchite new town is a small, neat place – no shops other than a supermarket, a tobacconist and several bars/restaurants – and the council run hotel; I’m still the only guest. Breakfast was the usual shock; toast and jam, cake and coffee. The receptionist who booked me in yesterday also forgot to turn on the hot water system; I had a nice cold shower this morning.

I head for Zaragoza tomorrow – there’s a back road which makes it 60 km as against 50 on the main drag – I’ll take the backroad, for sure. Time for dinner at the restaurant down the street – they do a mean paella……..

 

See you down the road.

 

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