Excavation of claimed Franco victims starts in Cuelgamuros

by Lorraine Williamson
valley of the fallen chapel

EL ESCORIAL – In the crypts of the former Valley of the Fallen near Madrid, a multidisciplinary team of 15 technicians will begin on Monday excavating the remains of 128 victims of the Spanish Civil War. 

Most of the victims were the result of the Franco regime. A full forensic laboratory has been set up within the basilica with modern equipment so that the experts can do their job. The team consists of six forensic experts, archaeologists, dentists, geneticists and four members of the forensic police, who will help identify the coffins in which the victims are buried if the inscription numbers are not visible. 

Careful preparations 

El País writes that before the excavations, preparations were made and legal obstacles were overcome. In December, measures were taken to protect the area, secure the architectural structures and ensure the safety of the technicians. Furthermore, the technicians will work with personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, face masks, gloves and insulating boots. Air filters are installed to reduce the amount of dust in the environment. 

basilica valley of the fallen

Months of legal battle 

The process to get to this point was not easy and has seen months of legal battles. After delays by Francoist and anti-memorialist groups, as well as a refusal by the local mayor to issue planning permission, work has finally started. 

Also read: Spain takes a new step in the Valley of the Fallen 

The operation is an initiative of the socialist government to comply with the Democratic Remembrance Act. Nevertheless, the “Society for the Defense of the Valley of the Fallen” is threatening lawsuits for sacrilege. 

Remains of 128 victims 

The team’s goal is to identify the remains of the 128 victims. The excavations will take place in two phases, with the Capilla del Santo Sepulcro first being examined. This is where 78 of the claimed remains are believed to be located. Subsequently, the Capilla del Santísimo will be examined, where another 39 remains are being sought. 

Baycrest Wealth

In other crypts, technicians will examine the remains at a later date. The total number of persons buried in Cuelgamuros is 33,847, which corresponds to the population of the city of Teruel. Of those persons, 12,530 have not yet been identified. 

Monument of Cuelgamuros 

Formerly known as Valle de los Caídos, the Monument of Cuelgamuros was erected by Franco to celebrate his victory in the Civil War. However, it has had a long history of backlash and controversy. 

Many families only discovered later, during democracy, that the remains of their loved ones had been moved to the Valley of the Fallen. They have been fighting for the return of the remains ever since. One of the plaintiffs, Manuel Lapeña, received a court judgment in 2016 in favour of exhuming his father and uncle. However, he passed away in 2021 before his wish could be fulfilled. 

Other relatives, such as Mercedes Abril and Silvino Gil, both at an advanced age, also want to find the remains of their respective parents. Fausto Canales, whose father and uncle are buried in the mausoleum, will finally experience this moment after a wait of 20 years. 


The work is expected to last until after the upcoming elections on July 23. However, this depends on which new government is elected. The leader of the Conservative PP has announced that he will withdraw the Memory Democracy Act if elected prime minister. And the far-right Vox is even completely hostile to the law. 

The current Presidency Minister has stressed that it is not political but human decency to allow families to dispose of the remains of their loved ones. 

Also read: Spanish judge stops excavating victims in Valley of the Fallen 


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