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The Valle de los Caídos

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Cruz de los Caídos, Bulevar de Los Caídos, La Solana, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Cuenca del Guadarrama, Comunidad de Madrid, 28200, España
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1365 ha

The Valle de los Caídos ( "Valley of the Fallen") is a Catholic basilica and a monumental memorial in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid. Francisco Franco claimed that the monument was meant to be a "national act of atonement" and reconciliation.

The monument, considered a landmark of 20th-century Spanish architecture, was designed by Pedro Muguruza and Diego Méndez on a scale to equal, according to Franco, "the grandeur of the monuments of old, which defy time and memory." Together with the Universidad Laboral de Gijón, it is the most prominent example of the original Spanish Neo-Herrerian style, which was intended to form part of a revival of Juan de Herrera's architecture, exemplified by the nearby royal residence El Escorial. This uniquely Spanish architecture was widely used in public buildings of post-war Spain and is rooted in international classicism as exemplified by Albert Speer or Mussolini's Esposizione Universale Roma.

The monument precinct covers over 3,360 acres (13.6 km2) of Mediterranean woodlands and granite boulders on the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, more than 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level and includes a basilica, a Benedictine abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos — four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. The most prominent feature of the monument is the towering 150-metre-high (500 ft) Christian cross, the tallest such cross in the world, erected over a granite outcrop 150 metres over the basilica esplanade and visible from over 20 miles (32 km) away. Work started in 1940 and took over eighteen years to complete, with the monument being officially inaugurated on 1 April 1959. According to the official ledger, the cost of the construction totalled 1,159 million pesetas, funded through national lottery draws and donations.

The complex is owned and operated by the Patrimonio Nacional, the Spanish governmental heritage agency, and ranked as the third most visited monument of the Patrimonio Nacional in 2009. The Spanish social democrat government closed the complex to visitors at the end of 2009, citing safety reasons connected to restoration on the façade. The decision was controversial, as the closure was attributed by some people to the Historical Memory Law enacted during José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's premiership, and there were claims that the Benedictine community was being persecuted. The works include the Pietà sculpture prominently featured at the entrance of the crypt, using hammers and heavy machinery. In November 2010, citing safety reasons, the Zapatero government closed down the Basilica for Mass.

Basilica, cross and abbey

One of the world's largest basilicas rises above the valley along with the tallest memorial cross in the world. The Basílica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen) is hewn out of a granite ridge. The 152.4-metre-high (500 feet) cross is constructed of stone.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII declared the underground crypt a basilica. The dimensions of this underground basilica, as excavated, are larger than those of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. To avoid competition with the apostle's grave church on the Vatican Hill, a partitioning wall was built near the inside of the entrance and a sizeable entryway was left unconsecrated.

The monumental sculptures over the main gate and the base of the cross culminated the career of Juan de Ávalos. The monument consists of a wide explanada (esplanade) with views of the valley and the outskirts of Madrid in the distance. A long vaulted crypt was tunnelled out of solid granite, piercing the mountain to the massive transept, which lies exactly below the cross.

On the wrought-iron gates, Franco's neo-Habsburg double-headed eagle is prominently displayed. On entering the basilica, visitors are flanked by two large metal statues of art deco angels holding swords.

There is a funicular that connects the basilica with the base of the cross. There is a spiral staircase and a lift inside the cross, connecting the top of the basilica dome to a trapdoor on top of the cross, but their use is restricted to maintenance staff.

The Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen (Spanish: Abadía Benedictina de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos), on the other side of the mountain, houses priests who say perpetual Masses for the repose of the fallen of the Spanish Civil War and later wars and peacekeeping missions fought by the Spanish Army. The abbey ranks as a Royal Monastery.

Valley of the Fallen

The valley that contains the monument, preserved as a national park, is located 10 km northeast of the royal site of El Escorial, northwest of Madrid. Beneath the valley floor lie the remains of 40,000 people, whose names are accounted for in the monument's register. The valley contains both Nationalist and Republican graves.



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