Many places around the world are known for the terrible things which have happened there. When you think of atrocities in Spain, most people immediately think of Guernica and it’s a place which is highly recommended if you want to understand a little bit more about the history of the Basque region. Although we had been disappointed with Picasso’s painting when we saw it in Madrid some years ago, seeing it reproduced in the woods of Zilbati as an environmental protest restored our interest in the subject.
On 26 April 1937 the town was the subject of a massive aerial attack. This was carried out by German and Italian bombers under the orders of Generalisimo Franco. The result was widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian deaths. Spain was engulfed in its bitter civil war and this was an attempt to gain control over the Basques and the Republicans. At the time of the raid, Guernica was a strategic point and it stood between the Nationalists and the capture of Bilbao. You can read a lot more about it on Wikipedia or you can pay your respects at the town’s wonderful Museo de la Paz . We decided on the latter.
Finding the museum was not as easy as we had anticipated. We actually drove all the way around the town expecting a big signpost which was either missing or we did not see! We caught a glimpse out of the corner of an eye and parked up as soon as it was convenient. Then we walked back to the museum. It is definitely worth the trip if you want to learn more about one of Spain’s darker moments. Inside there are numerous displays about the build up to and the aftermath of the bombings. You can even sit in a darkened room whilst an old lady tells her tale of that fateful night. She tells you what it was like to live with the air raid sirens and then suddenly the room vibrates and it all goes dark. Using tricks with mirrors you suddenly find yourself in a wrecked house. Everyone sat there in stunned silence until the door slid open allowing us to continue walking around the museum. In the basement there was temporary display of war photography illustrating the effects of conflict on children. It was also very moving.
Afterwards we set about seeing some more of the town. Close to the museum there are a couple of parks. One houses the Casa de Juntas which was once the seat of the Biscaya region of the Basque Government. Inside there is an enormous stained glass ceiling which shows the Tree of Guernica and the signing of documents in the assembley hall. The tree is the symbol of the Biscaya region and also appears on the city’s coat of arms. The original oak had been planted in the 14th Century and lasted 450 years. Its subsequent replacement lasted only 50 years whilst its replacement survived the bombing raids only to be killed off by a fungal disease. Luckily acorns from the trees are kept and “spares” are grown locally. The current incumbent didn’t look like much but then again, it is winter and not many trees are at their best right now. Also in the grounds is a small temple containing the trunk of “the old tree” which was the one that only lived for 50 years!
Just along the road are another couple of parks. There you can see some sculptures which, if we believe what we read, are symbolic of the survivors of the bombing. The Eduard Schillado offering is a bit bizarre and cubist whilst Henry Moore’s golden creation is just weird! Well, that’s our opinion anyway!!