A small town by the Ebro River just across on the Aragon side of the border with Catalonia, northern Spain
. Some of the bloodiest battles of the Spanish Civil War
were fought in this area during the Battle of the Ebro
and the town is home to a museum with a vast collection of war relics and military gear.
Today's town of Fayón, however, is a replacement for the old village of this name, which was submerged by a reservoir, out of which an old church tower still pokes, when a new dam was built on the Ebro in the 1960s.
More background info:
For the military-historical background in general see under Ebro
and Spanish Civil War
The idea of building a dam on the Ebro at this point to generate hydroelectric energy apparently goes back to before the Civil War, but it was only in the 1960s that the project was actually begun.
The reservoir forming in front of the dam (called Riba-roja) meant that the old village of Fayón had to be evacuated as it would be submerged by the waters. So a new village of the same name was built at a higher elevation to replace the old settlement. My guide told me that the inhabitants protested and did not move out of their old homes voluntarily, but eventually had to be marched out at gunpoint by the Guardia Civil (paramilitary police).
The new village they were forcibly moved to in 1967 was of a modern design, functional but bland. And my guide alleged that this fact may actually have been part of Franco's ideological plan – to keep his subordinates small and bored, basically.
I can't say whether that was indeed so or whether it was just a sign of the times (town planning in the late 1960s was after all characterized by a generally widespread leaning towards the soulless), but it sure didn't look overly attractive when I got a few glimpses of it while driving to the museum.
The place has apparently also suffered from a severe economic downturn in the wake of the closure of local coal mines, so that a lot of inhabitants upped sticks and left.
The museum in Fayón goes back to much smaller precursors, beginning in 2007, which were initially the work of two local collectors. In 2011 the local municipality provided them with much larger premises, namely in a former textile factory on the northern edge of the town. This was inaugurated in 2012.
What there is to see: What attracted my attention to Fayón initially (even before I knew they had a war museum too) was the fact that the old village was submerged by the reservoir that is the result of the hydroelectric dam project a bit downriver. When I researched this I quickly hit upon photos of its lone church tower still poking out of the water like a sad reminder of the vanished village. I found that so enigmatic and also beautiful I wanted to see it with my own eyes.
So when I toured the region with my Spanish-Civil-War-specialist guide (see under Ebro
) I mentioned this early on. That's when I also learned about the museum. It so happened that he also knew of a spot on a hill overlooking the reservoir
where there were some old trenches left behind from the times of the Battle of the Ebro – so this and a view of the lone church tower could be combined and added to my itinerary.
This excursion didn't get us quite as close as the spots the photos I had seen online were taken from but with the help of my superzoom bridge camera I got a decent impression of the lonely semi-submerged church tower– see the photo gallery
It seems you can get a better view of the tower from the Mirador del Ebro chapel, which is a bit closer to the site, on a hill on the Aragon side (unfortunately I didn't have time for this, though – after visiting the museum I had to dash on to Zaragoza).
On Google Maps it also looks like there is a zigzagging path leading down the hill, so if you feel really energetic you could get down there all the way to the water level to gaze at the tower from there. Or you could even stay in the area and take to the water, e.g. by kayak (see below
) and get up real close (from my far-off vantage point I observed a group of kayakers doing just this).
Other than the views over the reservoir, the Ebro valley and the new town of Fayón, the hill features some trenches and remnants of old bunkers/fortifications. But by then I had seen so many old trenches, bunkers and reconstructions thereof that the excitement about that kind of thing had worn off a bit for me. There were also a couple of information panels, but these were so weathered and scorched by the sun that they'd become almost completely illegible.
What I found more enticing was the old tunnel entrance opposite the Matarranya River that poked out of the sheer cliff face en route to the bridge from Catalonia to Aragon. In front of the old tunnel entrance you could also see the remnants of the pylons that once supported a railway bridge that connected the tunnel with the opposite riverbank. This bridge was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War – and you can see photos of this in the museum in Fayón.
By the roadside nearby stands an old house still riddled with bullet holes. Apparently this used to be a station – but it's long been abandoned, ever since the course of the rail tracks was changed to a route further south.
We then headed for the new town of Fayón itself to visit its Museum of the Battle of the Ebro, 'Museo Batalla Del Ebro', or, to give it its full official designation: “Centra Expositivo Fayón Ebro 1938 La Batalla”.
This museum is quite different from the other museums on this subject in the Ebro
. It differs from the 115 Days exhibition
and its associated outposts as well as from the CeBe museum in Gandesa
in that it is far less text- and media-oriented and instead features more military gear, and many of a much larger size, than any of the other sites, including the La Trinxera exhibition
(which is otherwise not dissimilar in spirit and approach).
Visitors basically follow a pre-set circuit through the large hall of exhibits, some of which have been grouped together to represent thematic 'scenes' populated by dummies. Amongst these are: the first crossing of the Ebro, a field kitchen and food store, a communications post, a command post, a field hospital or a scene of refugee civilians (with a dummy boy stealing a lemon from a cart).
And in the midst of it all the really huge stand-alone objects dominate the room – including some really massive artillery. But they also have the usual collections of rifles, shells, bombs, and gas masks and so on.
In addition there are plenty of glass display cabinets with smaller items such as medals, ammunition of various sizes, hand grenades as well as personal items such as glasses, cigarette cases, ID documents and letters and other papers.
Furthermore a great variety of propaganda posters from the time line the walls – probably the widest range I've seen anywhere.
In a corner near the exit a section focuses on the aerial bombing campaigns in this war – and you can also watch a video of such raids, with plenty of noise of falling bombs accompanied by dramatic music.
What labelling there is is all in Spanish only, but the lack of English doesn't matter so much here, as the nature of the exhibition is such that the displays more or less sufficiently speak for themselves.
While I was looking around the exhibition, my guide stayed behind and talked to the guys staffing the reception room – which functions as a library as well, by the way.
Also present was a 99-year-old veteran
from the Civil War
! He was in astonishingly good shape and good humour. Through my guide interpreting I learned that this man was wounded four time in battle. My guide even identified him as a young man in a photo taken in a field hospital back then. And the old man smiled – proud as punch!This was a truly moving and fascinating encounter that I had not really imagined possible. This was in 2015, and I sometimes wonder if this tough old guy is still going so strong …
All in all
, Fayón was in some ways a crowning finale of my tour of the Ebro
region. I preferred some of the other exhibitions (especially the Internationals
in La Fatarella
and also the 115 Day exhibition
in Corbera d'Ebre
) mainly for their more modern design, provision of more languages and educational merits. But the huge collection in the museum in Fayón did not fail to impress. Sometimes size does matter – and the sheer range of exhibits too!
Moreover, seeing that submerged church tower and the old tunnel was also intriguing. In the unlikely event that I ever return to Fayón I would also like to hire a boat and explore more that way …
Just beyond the border between Catalonia and Aragon in northern Spain
on a hill above the confluence of the Matarranya and Ebro Rivers. The old bridge remnants and tunnel entrance are on the latter, the semi-submerged church tower to the north-west of the confluence, and the trenches and viewpoints on the hill to the east of the mouth of the Matarranya. The museum is in a former industrial complex just to the north of the new town of Fayón itself (address: 14 Bajada la Fabrica, S/N, Calle b., 50795 Fayón).
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: You'll need your own transport (car), but then not too difficult to find, though off the beaten track; partly free partly for a fee (museum).
Details: The open-air sites described above are all for free, only the museum charges an admission fee. To get to the viewpoints follow the map locators given above, some are a little tricky to find. And the hilltop trench site involves some clambering about and possibly walking through undergrowth.
The easiest spot outside Fayón proper is the old tunnel entrance across the River Matarranya just before the bridge crossing from Catalonia into Aragon. You can park by the roadside and walk a bit closer. The bullet-riddled old station house is directly by the road.
The semi-submerged church tower is not directly accessible, unless you paddle to it by kayak – I've seen people do exactly that, so it is doable. There are boat/kayak rentals in the area, e.g. one right by the bridge crossing the Matarranya called simply “Kayaking Terra Alta”. Fit and experienced kayakers can also go all the way to an abandoned cement factory some 8 miles (13 km) upriver (see below).
Without taking to the waters, the submerged church tower can be seen from the hill with the old trenches on the eastern side of the mouth of the Matarranya, or from a more commodified viewpoint by the Mirador del Ebro chapel, which is a bit closer to the tower on the Aragon side.
The Museum of the Battle of the Ebro in Fayón is easy enough to find just north of the main town. The official website does not list the opening times, but Google Maps claims the following (take with a grain of salt): weekdays only from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays only 11 a.m. to 12 noon.
Admission: 6 EUR (in April 2015)
Time required: a couple of hours, but it depends a bit on how long you want to explore the old trenches up the hill with the view over the reservoir, and also on how much you get out of old military gear at the museum in the new town. If you are into both, you might need longer. If you want to go kayaking as well, you'll even need to stay overnight at least once.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
for more Civil War-related sites see under Ebro
In the other direction, heading west towards Zaragoza, you can slot in a visit to Belchite
, the ruined ghost town
and war memorial in rural Aragon that is probably the most dramatic such site in the country.
If you are into kayaking and want to go beyond the easy trip to the submerged church tower, you can also do the hard-core trip all the way to a site that should appeal to those with a penchant for abandoned buildings (and possibly urbex): at this very lonely spot stands a former cement factory that was given up a along time ago. The ruins certainly look dramatic. Exploring it on land should not include the interior as the structures are said to be in danger of collapse. The trip covers 16 miles (26 km) there and back, which can take up to 7-8 hours. All provisions have to be taken along.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The Riba-roja reservoir is an attraction for people who are into fishing and/or some water sports such as kayaking (see above). There are also a couple of camping sites in the area. But it is still quite off the mainstream tourist track.
For more further afield see under Ebro
in general. The nearest real touristy places are Zaragoza to the west and especially Barcelona
, Catalonia's capital city and one of the world's most magnificent metropolises.
- Fayon 01 - on the Ebro
- Fayon 02 - the old village disappeared due to a hydroelectric project
- Fayon 03 - only the church tower still pokes out of the water
- Fayon 04 - new village on higher ground
- Fayon 05 - viewpoint
- Fayon 06 - old trenches
- Fayon 07 - sign for the trenches
- Fayon 08 - illegibile interpretation panel
- Fayon 09 - bunker relic
- Fayon 10 - the Ebro flowing on into Catalonia
- Fayon 11 - remnants of an old railway bridge and tunnel
- Fayon 12 - bullet holes on the old station wall
- Fayon 13 - war museum in the new village
- Fayon 14 - 99-year-old veteran
- Fayon 15 - exhibition
- Fayon 16 - crossing the Ebro
- Fayon 17 - pins and medals
- Fayon 18 - life in the trenches
- Fayon 19 - communications gear
- Fayon 20 - morse code and drawing by hand
- Fayon 21 - food rations
- Fayon 22 - field hospital
- Fayon 23 - bloody
- Fayon 24 - big gun
- Fayon 25 - orange-faced Fascist
- Fayon 26 - gas masks
- Fayon 27 - aerial bombing war
- Fayon 28 - war and poverty
- Fayon 29 - stealing desperately needed food
- Fayon 31 - battlefield relics galore
- Fayon 31 - battlefield shrine