"BELCHITE" Belchite by AsturArcadia

Belchite Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 3 photos

Belchite lies at the heart of the Bajo Aragón olive oil producing region and immediately to the east of an important spread of vineyards centred on Cariñena. Modern Belchite, which has a population of around 1,700, and is surrounded by a scattering of low factory buildings and rough parking areas for agricultural equipment associated with the cultivation of olives, is a fascinating example of mid-1950s Spanish civil architectural styles - ponderous, elaborate, ornate, durable, and the absolute antithesis of the bleak and shoddy utilitarianism which was by then becoming fashionable across the rest of Europe.

But why should a completely new village have been necessary here half a century ago? For the answer we have to go back nearly twenty years earlier, to the summer of 1937, when Franco’s forces were making steady territorial gains in the coastal provinces of the north – Bizkaia, Cantabria and Asturias. As a diversionary tactic the Republicans in the Bajo Aragón region, led by the Lincoln-Washington Brigade, and supported by other foreign sympathisers, launched an offensive against Nationalist-held Zaragoza.
Belchite at that time was a substantial agro-town, with a civilian population of around 5,000. It was also a Nationalist stronghold, with some 2,000 troops quartered there. The push towards Zaragoza and the Ebro valley started on 24 August, with Belchite holding out until 6 September. Much of the fighting was literally from house to house; the civilian population fled as troops on both sides posted snipers in their dwellings. The snipers worked their way along the streets by knocking holes in the dividing walls between the buildings They even made use of cellars and subterranean passages to move around the village, boring holes in the roofs of the tunnels, through which they launched grenades at the feet of unsuspecting passers-by. While the Republicans stacked their dead in a great pile, poured petrol over the corpses, and then cremated them, the Nationalists simply left their casualties lying in the streets to rot - and in late summer this district endures pretty high temperatures and plagues of flies.

At the end of the siege the shattered settlement was simply abandoned, this being the fate of several other war-torn villages in the district as well. The press moved in, including reporters from the ‘Manchester Guardian’ (the forerunner of the present-day ‘Guardian’ Posters were discovered on the walls of the ruined buildings. Far from promising a just system of government - and the Republicans had come to power following a fair election (though one in which the two rival coalition parties had each secured an almost equal number of votes) - the propaganda left behind by ‘the rebels’, as Franco and his supporters were referred to, exhorted the wretched civilian population to desist henceforth from ‘anti-social behaviour’.

  • Last visit to Belchite: Nov 2002
  • Intro Updated May 28, 2009
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