The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Camino de Santiago | Camino Downunder

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Camino de Santiago

When Australians and other pilgrims walk the Camino Francés and on their 10th or 11th day from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France) they will come across the first and only Spanish Civil War monument. It is located right in the middle of the Montes de Oca where the Camino track is located. If you have Camino Downunder’s 30 all-weather walking maps this monument is located on Map 10.

It is located between Villafranca Montes de Oca and San Juan de Ortega – 250 km from SJPdP and still 518 km from Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrim by this stage is only one to two days away on foot from arriving into Burgos.

It is too easy to just keep walking, giving this monument no second thoughts. Everything that Spain is today and continually evolving in the 21st century can all be directly related to what the Civil War was fought about and the conflicting values which all parties brought to the battle fields. The Spanish Civil was infinitely bigger than Spain and yet it could only have been in Spain and in fact going all the way back to the Reconquista of the 11th century when disparate Spanish Christian forces commenced their very slow and hesitant advances south to retake the Islamic conquered areas in 711.

We know that the creation of the Camino de Santiago was a clever long term Christian strategy: in part a realpolitik move to neutralise the Islamic influences in the north and for it to be a rallying point for all the warring Christian interests groups in Northern Spain from the 10th century onwards.


On the monument, the Spanish text says:

«No fue inútil su muerte, fue inútil su fusilamiento»


It is important for the foreign pilgrim (i.e. the non Spanish pilgrim) in the 21st century to understand the huge ongoing impact which the Spanish Civil War had on Spanish people who lived and died during that period and since.

Doing the Camino de Santiago should give the walker an opportunity to reflect on Spain’s defining moment in the first half of the 20th century and its enduring legacy beyond.

Antony Beevor’s book The Battle for Spain – The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 in the Introduction wisely quotes the French writer of Le Petit Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) “A civil war is not a war but a sickness. The enemy is within. One fights almost against oneself.” Beevor states that “Spain’s tragedy in 1936 was even greater. It had become enmeshed in the international civil war, which started in earnest with the bolshevik revolution (of 1917).”

Very close to the Camino track where this Civil War monument is located today are some dense forests and access roads leading to and from Burgos city where during the Civil War “groups were taken out each night to be shot by the side of the highway.” (Antony Beevor – page 100).

During the Civil War in Spain, it is estimated that approximately 500,000 were killed: participants and non-combatant civilians.

Everyone knows about the bloody American Civil war in the 1860s. Too few who walk the pilgrimage track have any inkling how massively important it was for all of Europe and in many ways, it was a prelude to World War Two where civilians suffered hugely more casualties than the combatants in WW1. In Giles Tremlett’s book “Ghosts of Spain – Travels through a country’s hidden past” 2012 says that Spain had tried unsuccessfully to bury its recent past (its Civil War) but in recent times and with increasing interest from locals to the national government Spaniards are taking a deeper and longer critical look of the Civil War period and the Franco regime 1939-1975. The “pacto del olvido” – the collective act of forgetting what really happened from 1936 onwards, in region after region, village after village is now no longer a national or political consensus.

So for you, the foreign walker (the modern day pilgrim) day after day on this sacred track, do spare a long thought for all those who have come before you: locals and as well as foreigners. And having this understanding will better inform about your own purpose on and off the Camino. This Civil War monument is really a sacred site and should be treated as such – the peace dove on the monument demonstrates its universality.

Diversity, pluralism and respect for others are now cherished values around the world, no more so than on the Camino de Santiago – buen camino siempre.


  1. I have been to the mountain top | seriouswandering
    September 10, 2014

    […] past, and remind us not to repeat the same old mistakes. Another pilgrim wrote about the site here: It’s worth a […]

    • Marc Grossman
      September 10, 2014

      As the years progress into the 21st century the Spanish Civil War is revealing more and more of its horrors and cruelties. The last chapter and last word is very far away from being written. In Spain now, literally digging up the past to get to some of the truth. Your Blog is both engaging and revealing. Beautiful photos too.


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