Seville plans to open the largest mass grave in Western Europe

by Lorraine Williamson
Pico Reja mass graves

SEVILLA – The Pico Reja mass grave in Seville with 1,718 bodies is considered the largest in Western Europe. Work that took three years will be completed this month. Then an even larger mass grave will be started. 

An estimated 2,600 victims of the Franco regime are buried in this mass grave ‘Monumento’. Both Pico Reja and Monumento are located in the San Fernando Cemetery in Seville. The activities in both graves follow each other almost seamlessly. The number of victims thought to be found in Monumento is close to the 2,800 persons found in the San Rafael cemetery in Malaga. This was considered to be the largest mass grave in Spain to date. 

It is not yet known when exactly the work on Monumento will start. In any case, the current mayor of Seville, Antonio Muñoz, has promised that excavations in will be taken into account in the budget for 2023. Juan Tomás Aragón from the Ayuntamiento does not expect work to begin before the May 2023 elections. 

Pico Reja as a symbol 

Pico Reja is the first mass grave of the Franco regime in Seville where excavations have been made. That is why it has now acquired great symbolic value. The scale of the horrors encountered turned out to be much greater than had been expected. A documentary about this mass grave was even shown in the European Parliament. 

Authorities initially estimated that 900 victims of the Franco regime were buried there and about 250 people died of natural causes. But it turned out that there were many more. Ultimately, the remains of 1,718 murdered persons and almost 6,900 persons who died of natural causes were found. In total about 8,600 people. “All predictions have been far exceeded,” said Manuel Guijo, who is ultimately responsible for the excavations. 

Uncertainty about number of victims in Monumento 

Bearing in mind Pico Reja’s experience, the city council is not yet sure what to expect when Monumento’s new tomb is opened. Preliminary research by the historian José Díaz Arriaza points to the possible presence of 7,440 persons in this mass grave. Of these, 2,613 would have been killed by the Franco regime. However, the responsible councillor Juan Tomás Aragón is still cautious: ‘More or fewer bodies may be found. We don’t know yet what we’re going to find. As they say here: the earth will have the last word.” 

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More than expected 

Juan Manuel Guijo agrees: ‘There were many more people in Pico Reja than we expected’. The Franco regime tried in many ways to cover up its crimes, for example by moving bodies and even entire mass graves or by dissolving corpses in quicklime. It was initially thought that this mass grave was in use from 1925 to August 1936, when the first victims of the Civil War were buried in it. It has now become clear that it was only opened in 1936 and then remained in use for another ten years. 

Related post: Mass grave from Franco-era in Valencia expected to be opened soon 

According to the historian Díaz Arriaza, Monumento is said to contain 825 persons who were executed according to the laws of war at the time, 229 who were murdered by court-martial punishments and 15 persons who died by firearms accidents. In addition, there are 1,543 unspecified victims, a large proportion of whom were murdered without the cause being known. 

Monumento 

Pico Reja occupies just over 670 square metres and Monumento over 1,000. Because of that area alone, it is likely that there are many victims in Monumento. For a long time it was even thought that this was the only mass grave in the San Fernando cemetery. On April 14, 2003, a monument to the victims of the Franco regime was erected there. 

Completion of work in Pico Reja 

In Pico Reja work is still being done on a small area of about 21 square metres on the edge of the real mass grave. Juan Manuel Guijo: ‘We are working on the last remaining areas, but we don’t want to leave anyone’s remains behind. The families of the victims must have the certainty that everything has been excavated.” 

Build the largest ossuary in Spain 

A ceremony will take place at the end of January to finalise the excavation. After that, construction will begin on the largest ossuary in Spain for the remains of victims of the Franco regime. It will also serve as a memorial. 

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