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  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

Ebro

  
   to    - darkometer rating:  5 -
  
Roughly the area of north-eastern Spain/Catalonia where the Battle of the Ebro was fought in the Spanish Civil War. It is marked on the north and east by the river of the same name: Ebro. This part of Catalonia is also known as Terra Alta.
  
There are numerous war-related sites all over the area, including remains of trenches (some reconstructed), ruined villages, caves, monuments and several small museums in a number of towns and villages.    
        
More background info: in general see under Spanish Civil War
  
The Battle of the Ebro was the longest, largest and most decisive battle of the entire war. It started as a counter-offensive by the Republicans after the Nationalists under Franco had pushed into Catalonia in the Aragon Offensive from the west in the spring of 1938.  
  
The Republicans, with the international brigades and lots of newly conscripted soldiers (some as young as 16) and new material supplies coming over the border from France, launched their battle in late July 1938
  
Initially there was success and they managed to push the Francoists back through half of the Terra Alta region. Soon, however, the battle tuned out to be a disaster, the element of surprise quickly evaporated and then the Nationalists' superiority in military equipment (including support from the German Condor Legion as well as aircraft from the Italian air force) played out again, as it had in the Aragon Offensive. 
  
For the Republican side the Battle of the Ebro ended in humiliating defeat and ultimately spelled the death knell for the Republic. The ill-thought-out strategy of holding on to conquered territory at all costs, with a river in the back whose bridges were easy targets for the enemy air attacks so that supplies collapsed, in the end meant the Republicans lost tens of thousands of men and the bulk of their equipment, all for no gain at all. After 115 days since the launch of the attack the last Republicans retreated back across the Ebro at Flix and the battle was over. And only a few months later the whole war was lost. 
  
The full military details of the Battle of the Ebro go well beyond the scope of this chapter. So I have to refer the reader to the numerous sources out there that can be relied on for such detail (see e.g. the book recommendation in the Spanish Civil War chapter). 
  
Here I will concentrate less on military history but on what there is to see, in the present day, for the so-inclined dark tourists. And in addition to the background information to be gleaned from the established written and other sources there are, not least of all, all the various museums in the area that are introduced in the sub-chapters listed below. 
  
  
What there is to see: Lots! Way too much for a single chapter on this website, so the major sites and towns/villages with significant commodifications of the war history of the area are given their own separate sub-chapters. Here's the list:  
  
  
  
   
  
  
  
But there's loads more – some of which I will briefly introduce here, without going into too much detail. Note that I visited the area with an expert guide (see below) – without such a guide some of these places would not be so easy to find. In the following I've tried to concentrate on the less obscure sites and given map locators wherever possible. 
  
My guided tour began at the train station of Mora la Nova across the Ebro River from Mora d'Ebre where I picked up the guide from the station. We then first stayed on this side of the river and I was shown some pretty obscure locations related to the build-up of the battle of the Ebro in Marça and even some well hidden British war graves deep in an overgrown location (see photo).
  
We then headed to one of the locations where the Republicans undertook their first Crossing of the Ebro, in this case just south of Vinebre in July 1938, before making our own crossing a bit further upstream by using the bridge at Asco. 
  
The first proper “official” memorial we visited was Les Camposines. This monument commemorating the war also serves as an ossuary for remains that to this day are regularly found in the fields of the region. 
  
Nearby my guide pointed out a German marker stone commemorating a pilot shot down at this spot who died “den Fliegertod” (roughly: 'airman's death'). Later we also spotted similar German markers in Gandesa and La Fatarella.
  
We also visited various sites bearing scars from the war, such a bullet-riddled houses and old trenches, some elaborately reconstructed, bunkers and other fortifications. There was clearly lots of war archaeology and reconstruction work still ongoing. All these were too varied and too many to be described here in detail. 
  
Similarly, we visited a couple of caves that played a role in the war, including Cova de Betlem, where there is some minimal commemoration, as well as a totally obscure cave system on a wildly overgrown hill which took some considerable effort to get to and track down. Inside, however, we were able to find some “raw” relics from the war such as rusty old tins, shells and rifle cartridges. Without a guide well versed in such war archaeology you'll never find these sites, though. So I will not dwell on their description here either. 
  
The same goes for some private war relic collections we were shown at a couple of houses in the area, including one not far from La Fatarella that also offered basic accommodation. Without staying there or without a guide taking you there, you won't be able to see these.
  
A particular officially commodified spot worth mentioning here, on the other hand, is a site connected to the “other” side, the Nationalists, namely an observation post just west of Gandesa that was used by Franco himself during the Battle of the Ebro. It was one of the locations (cf. also Belchite) where it was very obvious indeed that tensions going back to the war and the dictatorship are still lingering. The place was heavily vandalized, in particular with all manner of graffiti including overtly abusive language such as “fascists are shit” or “death to fascists”. 
  
Another officially commodified site we visited was one related to the final stages of the Battle of the Ebro, namely the Camp del Xv CE at Asco. It was from this location on a high escarpment above the Ebro valley that Colonel Tagüeñas organized the final retreat of the defeated Republican army. 
  
From the escarpment you also get a good view down to the little town of Flix (pronounced “fleesh”, not “flics”). In Flix you can also visit a former air-raid shelter that has been commodified for visitors. In addition to the usual information panels and photos they apparently also have an “audiovisual projection” with a soundtrack of sirens, planes flying overhead and bomb explosion noises to recreate the atmosphere of the shelter in which locals sought refuge from Franco's air force raids.
  
From the escarpment you can also see next to Flix a site that is unrelated to the Civil War but has another kind of darkish “appeal”: the nuclear power plant complex of Asco I & II. Their single cooling tower is a whopping 525 feet (160 m) high and nearly 400 feet (120 m) in diameter at the base. This makes it the most visible structure far and wide. 
  
There are several more Civil-War-related locations in the Terra Alta region, which we unfortunately did not have time for, including two further interpretation centres. These are the “Voices from the Frontline” exhibition in El Pinell de Brai about the role of the press and propaganda in the war, and the “Soldiers in the Trenches” exhibition in Vilalba dels Arcs
  
There are also various more monuments, remains of trenches, fortifications, caves, bunkers, shelters and viewpoints to be explored. For orientation you can get good maps from the Consorci Memorial dels Espais de la Batalla de l'Ebre based in Corbera d'Ebre, e.g. at their 115 Days interpretation centre
  
  
Locations: In north-eastern Spain (Catalonia), all over the Terra Alta region (and partly just beyond), roughly between Fayon in the north-west and Flix in the north-east, as well as Caseres in the south-west and El Pinell de Brai and Mora d'Ebre in the (south-)east, with Gandesa and Corbera d'Ebre roughly in the centre. 
  
Google maps locators: 
  
Ebro crossing site: [41.1743, 0.6011]
  
Les Camposines Memorial: [41.1161, 0.5366]
  
Cova de Betlem: [41.0859, 0.5194]
  
Franco observation post: [41.0524, 0.3914]
  
Asco viewpoint: [41.1741, 0.5018]
  
  
  
Access and costs: off the beaten tourist track, thus not easy to travel around in and locate the various sites without a guide or speaking the language well; costs depend (with guide much higher than without).  
  
Details: In order to independently tour the Terra Alta and all the various locations associated with the Battle of the Ebro you really have to have your own vehicle (or hire car). The larger towns and villages may have public transport connections, but most of the sites described here are simply too remote to be reachable that way. 
  
Ideally you should also use a SatNav (GPS) so that you can use the map locators given above and in the other chapters for getting to the various spots. 
  
The larger museum exhibitions/interpretation centres have some English translations, otherwise not speaking Catalan or at least Spanish well could be a major language barrier to getting the most out of a visit to this area. 
  
When I went there (around Easter time in 2015), I hired an expert guide for two and a half days. This helped a lot and also got me to locations I would otherwise never have known about. The guide I used is called Alan Warren, a British historian/teacher based in Barcelona who specializes in the Spanish Civil War and in particular the Battle of the Ebro, and as an Englishman especially puts an emphasis on the perspective of the International Brigade. (You can also follow him on his blog at Porta de la Historia – pdlhistoria(dot)wordpress(dot)com, where you can also find his email address). 
  
Of course, hiring such an expert guide does not come cheap. I was charged 100 EUR per day plus all expenses (transport, accommodation, meals – which together pushes the price up to nearly double the amount). But I found it was money well invested. Alan not only knows his stuff (and speaks the language fluently) but is also quite involved with the local communities and is personally acquainted with all the relevant people. By the way, he is also involved with the plans for a proper Civil War Museum to be set up in Barcelona. In short, he's the best guy to get if you really want to explore the topic on the ground to maximum depth. 
  
There are alternatives. Some of the organizations in the area offer guiding as well, including the Consorci Memorial dels Espais de la Batalla de l'Ebre, which also runs the batallaebre(dot)org website and several of the interpretation centres around the area and is based in Corbera d'Ebre. They offer mainly group tours that are customizable so you have to enquire directly with them for prices and programmes. Since I did not use them for touring I cannot vouch for the quality of those tours, though. The CEBE (Centre d'Estudis de la Batalla de l'Ebre) that runs the museum in Gandesa may also be able to help, but again I cannot say anything about their (possible) services either.  
  
For any in-depth visit to this area you will need time, so you'll also require accommodation. When I went we used an ecological guest house in La Fatarella that my guide knew well and recommended (cost at the time was 44 EUR per person per night, on a dinner, bed & breakfast basis), but he can also find you cheaper options such as home stays or basic pensions. Proper hotels are a bit thin on the ground in this rather non-touristy region, though I stayed in a reasonable motel-like place in Gandesa (called Pique) for a night before commencing my tour programme.  
  
There are also a few pretty good-looking hotels (with restaurants) in the villages of Bot, Vilalba dels Arcs or Flix, for example.   
  
  
Time required: To cover just the sites listed here you need a minimum of three or four days (with the help of a guide), for those who want to dig really deep there's enough here to keep real Spanish-Civil-War-buffs occupied for weeks if not months on end.  
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The nearest significant Civil-War-related site outside the Ebro area is Belchite to the west in Aragon, south of Zaragoza. But Catalonia's capital city Barcelona to the east of the Ebro also has to be mentioned, especially for its excellent Civil-War-themed walking tours.  
  
See also under Spain in general. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: This area of the Ebro, the Terra Alta, does not normally feature much on the mainstream tourist map of Spain, but it deserves to be better known. I really loved it, both for its varied scenery, its cuisine, its outstanding wines (that are also undeservedly little known) and also the people and the whole laid-back atmosphere. 
  
The landscape of the Terra Alta appears surprisingly green and lush in many places – which contrasts with the descriptions and images of the area from the times of the Civil War. Indeed, it used to be much more arid than it appears today. This is due to an extensive programme of planting trees undertaken under Franco after the war. So the dictator left his mark on this land in more than one way ...
  
Still, the Terra Alta is a rather quiet rural area, off the beaten tourist track and without any big draws in terms of highbrow culture or Roman or Moorish architectural monuments. But its rural quietness is in a way an attraction in itself.
  
Naturally, the biggest mainstream attractions outside the Terra Alta are the big cultural metropolises of Barcelona to the east and Zaragoza in Aragon to the west – see also under Spain.  
  
   
 
  • Ebro 01 - green hillsEbro 01 - green hills
  • Ebro 02 - much lusher than when the International Brigades came hereEbro 02 - much lusher than when the International Brigades came here
  • Ebro 03 - location of the Ebro crossingEbro 03 - location of the Ebro crossing
  • Ebro 04 - the river in floodEbro 04 - the river in flood
  • Ebro 05 - remote war gravesEbro 05 - remote war graves
  • Ebro 06 - more overt official commemorationEbro 06 - more overt official commemoration
  • Ebro 07 - Les Camposines MemorialEbro 07 - Les Camposines Memorial
  • Ebro 08 - proper structureEbro 08 - proper structure
  • Ebro 09 - names, photos, flowersEbro 09 - names, photos, flowers
  • Ebro 10 - ossuary doorEbro 10 - ossuary door
  • Ebro 11 - looking upEbro 11 - looking up
  • Ebro 12 - exit stairsEbro 12 - exit stairs
  • Ebro 13 - downed German pilot memorial stone by the roadsideEbro 13 - downed German pilot memorial stone by the roadside
  • Ebro 14 - another German markerEbro 14 - another German marker
  • Ebro 15 - this one is for a tank driverEbro 15 - this one is for a tank driver
  • Ebro 16 - trench reconstruction near La FatarellaEbro 16 - trench reconstruction near La Fatarella
  • Ebro 17 - elaborately designed memorial plaqueEbro 17 - elaborately designed memorial plaque
  • Ebro 18 - bullet-riddled house near GandesaEbro 18 - bullet-riddled house near Gandesa
  • Ebro 19 - Riu d AlgarsEbro 19 - Riu d Algars
  • Ebro 20 - Franco observation and command postEbro 20 - Franco observation and command post
  • Ebro 21 - Franco-era memorialEbro 21 - Franco-era memorial
  • Ebro 22 - vandalizedEbro 22 - vandalized
  • Ebro 23 - the battle continues in graffitiEbro 23 - the battle continues in graffiti
  • Ebro 24 - Cova de BetlemEbro 24 - Cova de Betlem
  • Ebro 25 - inside the caveEbro 25 - inside the cave
  • Ebro 26 - plaqueEbro 26 - plaque
  • Ebro 27 - relicsEbro 27 - relics
  • Ebro 28 - hidden sign for the caveEbro 28 - hidden sign for the cave
  • Ebro 29 - serious hillside clamberingEbro 29 - serious hillside clambering
  • Ebro 30 - totally uncommodified remote caveEbro 30 - totally uncommodified remote cave
  • Ebro 31 - me going inEbro 31 - me going in
  • Ebro 32 - inside the caveEbro 32 - inside the cave
  • Ebro 33 - cave explorationEbro 33 - cave exploration
  • Ebro 34 - rusty relicsEbro 34 - rusty relics
  • Ebro 35 - old tinEbro 35 - old tin
  • Ebro 36 - excavated bunkerEbro 36 - excavated bunker
  • Ebro 37 - private collection of battlefield relicsEbro 37 - private collection of battlefield relics
  • Ebro 38 - including a German gas maskEbro 38 - including a German gas mask
  • Ebro 39 - Camp de Xv CE at AscoEbro 39 - Camp de Xv CE at Asco
  • Ebro 40 - hillside shelterEbro 40 - hillside shelter
  • Ebro 41 - no cave exploring hereEbro 41 - no cave exploring here
  • Ebro 42 - Flix on the riverEbro 42 - Flix on the river
  • Ebro 43 - nuclear power station nearbyEbro 43 - nuclear power station nearby
  • Ebro 44 - but renewable energy-generating is very common here tooEbro 44 - but renewable energy-generating is very common here too
 
 
 
 
 
   
  
  
  
  
 
 

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