3500 square meters. 200 rooms filled with furniture and art accumulated over five centuries, but without memory. Entering the Palacio de Liria, the official residence of the Casa de Alba in Madrid, where the current duke lives today, is like immersing yourself in his imposing legacy, with paintings by eminent artists such as Velázquez and Rubens, or handwritten letters Cristobal. Colon. The kindness of the family and its art collection, turned into a museum, have been the focus of visits, open to the public since 2019, but at the same time they have been spreading an equidistant and Franco-propagated vision of what happened to the palace during the Civil War.
Nothing is mentioned about the fascist authorship of the explosion that caused the fire, of which practically only the facade of the building remains, an episode about which Casa de Alba defends that there are “opposite theories” regarding the charges, in the style of Guernica. , which made the rebel side Republicans.
Nothing is said about the task that the communist militias carried out in the middle of the fire, trying to save paintings, tapestries and other works of art that were threatened by the fire and which were later exhibited by the government of the Republic in Valencia.
The mansion occupies numbers 20-22 along Calle de la Princesa, one of the main arteries of the city. Built in the 18th century in neoclassical style, it is said to be the largest private residence in Madrid, with its large gardens standing out. Here are some of the details that are told during the general visit offered by the palace, a tour of 14 rooms that lasts 65 minutes and in which the contents are explained in two ways: the entire journey is led by a guide from the palace itself. and an audio guide carried by each of the visitors.
One has only to wait six minutes from the beginning of the visit, as the voice that recorded the historical and cultural information will call the fire that almost completely destroyed the palace in November 1936. It happened as part of the systematic bombing raids that German and Italian air raids on Madrid under Franco’s command, but the audio guide goes on tiptoe. While on other occasions he assures that the history of Liria is “intertwined with the history of Spain itself”, the truth is that there is a part that remains hidden.
The “public and artistic life” of the palace “cut short with the outbreak of the Civil War. A fire that lasts several days devastates the palace. The destruction is devastating.”
As if the flames were created by accident, and not as a result of the bombing and terror strategy carried out by the rebels over the capital, these words are the only mention of the conflict throughout the tour. But the reality is that against all odds – the then Duke of Alba Jacobo Stewart was Franco’s ambassador to London – the palace started burning at 4 p.m. on November 17, 1936, due to the impact of 18 incendiary bombs, quotes a study restored by La historia. The Vicissitudes of the Liria Palace during the Spanish Civil War by Valme Muñoz Rubio.
The Madrid newspaper ABC, which at the time still supported the Republican government, reported this in its morning edition the next day: “Yesterday, three disastrous invasions caused the enemy to sow death and chaos in Madrid. His incendiary bombs have led to several accidents. One of the buildings lit up in a tragic light was the historic Palacio de Liria. The same headline, but in its Seville edition, under the command of Franco, brought to the front page the generalized attacks of the day: “Yesterday, the troops of the National Army continued to win positions from the Reds, already inside the capital of Madrid, repelling and destroying the international column,” read the newspaper.
The explanation given by the Casa de Alba Foundation for the lack of mention of authorship of the bombs is that “he preferred to maintain an aseptic and neutral position,” the spokesman said in response to this media outlet. The institution suggests that “there are conflicting theories of authorized votes” and ensures that “the evidence given by historians is not conclusive”, and therefore it was considered that “it is best to avoid any controversy”. When asked what these hypotheses are, the foundation points to a fire caused by German or national aircraft and another that “defends that it was caused by private individuals to cover up looting.”
The very gluttony of the Reds was not content with plundering the palace, but wanted to destroy it in order to brutally erase the trace of the robbery.
ABC Newspaper April 1939
It was this vision of the attack that was propagated at the time by Francoist propaganda, which wanted to blame the republican militias guarding the palace. This was written in the report that the architect made for the Duke of Alba in the following days and which Muñoz collects in his office, as well as in the Madrid alphabet, which, when it came under the control of the Francoists, in April 1939, he declared: “There is little that can to compare with these monstrous mutilations that leave our old court mansions half dead. […] The Marxist hoax spread its weapons around the destruction of the Lyria Palace.” And he continues: “False propaganda is allegedly connected with the bombing of national aviation. The truth was repulsive: the very gluttony of the Reds was not content with plundering the palace, but wanted to destroy it in order to cruelly erase the trace of the robbery.
The equidistance of authorship can also be detected by the visitor in Lyria when he asks the guides accompanying the tour how this facility was able to check on different days. There are many theories, it is not known exactly […] There are those who claim that they were fascists, that they were Reds…,” one of the guides pointed out. Another claims they were “Nazi or Francoist” planes, although “this is little known,” he adds. When asked if it was the Francoist side, he replies: “I think so, they say, but it is not known for sure.” The Casa de Alba Foundation did not respond to a media question about whether the workers were receiving any specific guidance on the matter.
“There are no scientific contradictions”
However, historians do not doubt it. “At that time, only the rebel aircraft, based in Avila and Talavera, and the German aircraft bombed Madrid. Both under the command of Franco. There are no scientific contradictions,” says Gutmaro Gómez, professor of history at the Complutense University of Madrid and coordinator of Siege. History of Madrid in the Civil War. “This is well known. It was one more than those that were committed in those days and affected the Prado Museum or the National Library. It was the air force, coordinated with the rebels, that did the work of Franco, obsessed with taking the capital,” says Antonio Cazorla, professor modern history of Trent University (Canada).
The question at issue is what kind of aviation it was. There are those who say, like Michael Alpert, who studied foreign air intervention in the war, that it was Nazi Germany’s Condor Legion. In particular, the German Junkers bombers. Alpert maintains that the bombs could have fallen on the palace “intentionally” or accidentally, as bombing techniques using high-explosive and other incendiary bombs “did not reach the pinnacle of accuracy” developed during World War II, and there were “legitimate targets” relatively close to Alba’s residence .
An expert historian of the Civil War and the Franco regime, Ángel Viñas, says that throughout August and September, “fascist foreign aircraft were one of the main supporters of the rebels.” In fact, Fascist Italy’s Aviazione Legionaria “already promised to support the coup 15 days before it began.” However, as far as Madrid is concerned, he believes that at the time of the bombardment of the Liria Palace, the Condor Legion had not yet been formally formed. “It was a structured force with commands and rules of action that began to operate in an organized way in December.” However, German aircraft, “some of which will become part of the Condor,” had already attacked Madrid in November, he adds.
Treasures Saved by the Communists
There is another outstanding chapter in the history of the Alba residence during the Civil War, which also does not exist for tours of the palace. And the fact that it was the republican policemen who saved a good part of his artistic and cultural heritage from the fire.
However, the audio guide glosses over this. “Nearly the entire art collection has been preserved thanks to the fact that it is under the protection of the Bank of Spain, on the Paseo del Prado and in the British Embassy,” the recording relates to the transfer of a small part of the works that the Duke of Alba had done earlier. . However, some of these items were returned to the palace before the fire by the Republicans.
“Franco-propaganda says at this moment that the Reds are looting and destroying culture. In the case of churches, this has happened, but the country’s great artistic buildings are protected by both the government of the Republic and the militias, because they are considered to be the property of the people, ”explains Cazorla.
After the capture of the Palacio de Liria by the Republican government, it became one of the most active cultural centers in Madrid.
Valme Munoz Rubio
One of the best examples was the Liria Palace, which was captured by Communist Party militias a few days after the failed coup against the Republic in Madrid. As Muñoz describes in his study, this was a fairly frequent occurrence, the purpose of which was to protect cultural and artistic heritage and “turn palaces and collections into popular museums.”
The works were guarded with great diligence, “safety measures were taken” such as smoking bans or railings to protect the paintings, and the palace remained open. The Republicans considered it the safest place, thinking that the rebels would never attack it. The visits and lectures were organized to such an extent that it became “one of the most active cultural centers in Madrid,” Muñoz is quoted as saying.
Everything was interrupted by shelling, but it was the Republican militias who burst inside and managed to save a good part of the artistic and cultural treasures stored in the palace. This is evidenced by several testimonies, including the testimony of a housekeeper who spoke about the first hours of the fire: the police at first tried to put out the fire, but, given its intensity, they decided to save as much as possible. The paintings were kept in what was considered the safest room, the telephone room; the curtains and tapestries were removed and, together with the carpets, everything was transferred to the garden. Furniture, books, porcelain and silver were also taken there.
From there, the goods were loaded into vans and transported to two buildings in Serrano and Antonio Maura streets occupied by the Communist Party. This task, which was also admired by people “not sympathetic to the government”, as documented by Valme Muñoz, lasted several days. The Republic was quick to incorporate the episode into its propaganda apparatus and aired it in the form of articles and pamphlets to reinforce “its meritorious cultural work,” the investigation cited. In fact, some of the work was exhibited in Valencia at the end of the year: “The militias are saving from the fire the best works of art from this famous Museum, and the Ministry of Public Education presents to the civilized world a living testimony of the culture saved for the anti-fascist people,” read one of the brochures. Exhibitions.
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