There are two villages named Belchite sitting side by side in the south of Spain. One is home to about 1,600 people. The other is a ghost town, ruined during Spain’s Civil War and left untouched as a reminder of the destruction wreaked across the country.
The Spanish Civil War began in 1936. Since winning the general election in February, the left-wing Republican government had been struggling to contain Nationalist uprisings. Assassinations on both sides in July—followed by police-militia shootouts at the murdered men’s funerals—paved the way for full-blown rebellion across the country. War was declared on July 17. By the end of the month, the Nationalist insurgents controlled about a third of Spain.
By mid-1937, the Republicans were fighting back hard, bolstered by the Nationalists’ two failed attempts to capture Madrid. In order to slow the Nationalists’ southward advances, the Republican Army, along with volunteer fighters from the International Brigades, launched an offensive around the town of Belchite. For two weeks, the Nationalists resisted Republican attempts to recapture the village. Thousands died on both sides. By Sept. 7, when the Republicans finally wrested control of Belchite, the place had been decimated.
Since that day, the village of Belchite has been kept in its hollowed-out, rubble-strewn state. A new town was built beside it in 1939, but the old one remains as a living monument.
The victors of the Battle of Belchite ended up losing the war, which plunged Spain into a totalitarian state that lasted until the death of its fascist leader, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, in 1975.
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