Anything But Paella

Digging into Bigastro’s Past

Bigastro is a small town inland from the southern Costa Blanca. It’s a nice place for a wander around and there is a recently created walking trail, the Ruta Alquibla, that takes in the town and the countryside on both sides. All along the route there are information signs telling you about the history of the town and various prominent figures. There’s more information about it on their Facebook page too.

Very recently though, something new was uncovered – documents from the Spanish Civil War. Hidden away in a box at the back of a cupboard, they were in remarkable condition, and avoided the mass destruction of the vast majority of documents from that era. We asked about the small exhibition in the town hall only to find that it is actually in a side room at the town’s auditorium. A guide from the town hall came with us and told us some incredible tales of the back stories behind the documents. If you can visit before the end of July, you can do this for yourself, but if your Spanish isn’t up to scratch you may have to enquire in advance.

One story that particularly grabbed our attention was about paper money. During the Civil War most metal, including church bells and cash, were melted down to make armaments. One coin could be turned into a bullet and with such metals in scarce supply, it was decided to create a new currency. Coins were made from cardboard and could be spent only locally. There was no point travelling to Orihuela with your Bigastro paper money as it wouldn’t be accepted when you got there. It was a fascinating anecdote to hear.

We were also told of various ways to avoid conscription. If you could get a doctor to sign you off as medically unfit, that was perfectly acceptable. It seems that an awful lot of any doctor’s friends found themselves stricken to the point of being able to fight. There was also the intriguing situation that anyone having silkworms in their house couldn’t go off to join the war effort either. This was because silk was also in short supply and both Italy and Germany needed it for textiles and parachutes. With the right documents, you were exempt from being conscripted.

Another story was that of General Salvador Bañuls Navarro. Born in Bigastro, he went on to become the General Captain of Catalonia. During one battle he hid under water in a ditch near a bridge, breathing through a straw of some sort. This act of heroism apparently went on for three days!

There is also a thank you letter from King Alfonso XIII to the town of Bigastro in praise of the support he received from them in 1929, long before the Civil War began. In contrast, there is some post-war Franco propaganda which was sent to every town and village in Spain telling them of the great victory.

It seems incredible that all of these documents survived in a box hidden at the back of someone’s wardrobe for all these years.

If you have any fascination with Spain’s dark recent history then you need to get to Bigastro quickly before they put these valuable documents back into storage.

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