Northern Spain Road Trip – Day 7 – Guernica & Gaztulgetxe

Today we’re heading for Guernica, a name synonymous with the brutality of the Spanish Civil War. The town suffered a devastating bombing raid that levelled the city in 26th April 1937. The German and Italian forces who undertook the bombing were supporting Francisco Franco to overthrow the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing almost entirely destroyed the city and many civilians perished.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), Guernica was considered to be the northern bastion of the Republican resistance and the center of Basque culture. For this reason, it became a prime target for Francisco Franco. It also came to prominence thanks in part to Pablo Picasso. The events of the horrific bombing which inspired his most famous piece of artwork – “Guernica.” While “Guernica” does not contain any direct reference to the bombing it does show suffering and destruction. The painting gained monumental status serving as a visit reminder of the cruelties and tragedies of war.

We visit the Picasso mural first and then walk to the Park of the People’s of Europe which features two enormous sculptures by Eduardo Chillida and Henry Moore. The sculpture by Chillida is called “Gure Aitaren Etxea” which means “The house of our father.” It was ordered by the Basque Government to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Guernica bombing. It is a monument dedicated to peace. The sculpture by Henry Moore is entitled “Large Figure in a shelter” and is part of the collection “War Helmets,” that the artist started during the World War II.

The bombing raids suffered in the Basque country from July 1936 onwards meant that the Basque Government decreed that air raid shelters be built in all towns. The Mayor of Guernica instructed municipal architect Castor Uriarte to build at least six shelters for public use. At the same time a large number of private shelters were also constructed. We visit two of the shelters dug into the mountain side in Union Square and the audio visual and sound effects are chilling and give us goosebumps. It’s a stark reminder of the ferocity of the air raid in 1936.

The Talleres de Gernika factory built two shelters for is workers in September 1936. We visited one of them, the “Astra” shelter that took its name from the renowned Astra 400 “la puro” handgun which was manufactured in Gernika in the first half of the 20th century.

This year’s Tour de France is starting in Bilbao and the first three stages of the race will commence is the Basque region of Northern Spain. There is huge pride that the region is once again hosting race stages and whilst in Guernica we visited a fan park setup to encourage locals and tourists to watch the race when it starts on 1st July. It’s an uplifting end to a very sombre visit to Guernica.

We leave Guernica and head to the coast and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe a tiny island off the northern coast of Spain. The island is connected to the mainland by a thin, winding, manmade pathway and 242 steps need to be climbed in order to reach the chapel at the top. The chapel is dedicated to John the Baptist, and has been standing in the same place since the 10th century. There have been several tombs discovered in and around the church dating back to the 9th and 12th centuries. The site was attacked by Francis Drake in 1593 and has also suffered several fires.

The hermitage is also home to several offerings from sailors who survived shipwrecks. It’s said that at the start of the tuna fishing season local fishermen come and say a prayer and make an offering to wish for a successful season.

It’s a steep climb down from the top of the hill to the start of the causeway and we’re dreading the return walk. It’s a warm afternoon and we get quite hot walking to the top but it’s so worth it and the views out across the Atlantic are fantastic. It’s a grim climb back up the hill but we encourage each other and eventually make it to the top. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ll recognise the site and it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s free to visit you just need to book a ticket online in advance as visitor numbers are limited for safety reasons.


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