RECENTLY DISCOVERED DURING DEMOLITION WORK, THE UNDERGROUND COMPLEX HAD NOT BEEN SEEN BY HUMAN EYES SINCE 1938
(Translation to English by D.Breatnach from article by Daniel Ramirez in El Espanol on line on 14 May this year — link given at end of translation. Photos reproduced and article translation published by kind permission of El Espanol)
A hole in the ground, in the entrails of the city. Dry earth covered with mud. It had rained. The American girls and those dressed up run in search of a taxi when the Raimundo Fernández Villaverde street dies, just as they rise in the Nuevos Ministerios area. Noise from horns, ambulances, shouts. And in the middle of it all, the big hole.
It is surrounded by cranes and scrap metal. Also building workers and architects in yellow vests. In the centre, five or six metres deep, a door of cement and brick. It may not be interfered with. In the guts of the Artillery Workshop, recently demolished, the financial heart of Madrid has just discovered an air raid shelter, built in 1938. That’s the reason for the dug earth, the mud, the emptiness.
The demolition of this neomudéjar-style building to make room for a block of housing split the Madrid City Council of which Carmena is Mayor. Those who wanted to keep it lined up against the rest, but few knew what was hidden by the floor of the now defunct first concrete construction of the city, built in 1899 by the Ministry of War. It belonged to the state – in military use for decades – until 2014, when it was sold to a real estate cooperative for 111 million euros.
“It’s the first visit after its discovery”
Just beyond the open door, stairs. The cement benches that allayed the fear of death appear six metres down. Virgin earth for camera and notebook. “This is the first visit after its discovery,” says Isabel Baquedano, archaeologist of the General Directorate of Heritage of the Community of Madrid, which froze the work permit until the survival of the shelter had been ensured.
One last look at daylight. Baquedano brings to life the race to the basement. The hole in the earth was then an inner courtyard in the Artillery Workshop. On the floor, a door. Then another, like the one that we are now going through.
HEMINGWAY AND THE AERIAL BOMBING
Hemingway said that, at the beginning of the war, the citizen would quickly see the enemy plane and the sirens would soon be screaming. Then they flew much higher and the deaths multiplied. A bomb was “that growing whistle, like a subway train that crashes against the cornice and bathes the room in plaster and broken glass.” The American, with lively irony, used to joke: “While you hear the glass tinkle as you fall you realize that, at last, you are back in Madrid.”
The stairs and walls are brick. “Like those of almost all shelters,” explains Baquedano. The archaeologist who acts as a guide for this visit outlines a universal, institutionalised architecture, fruit of necessity, constructed in a race against time. “The International Red Cross came to draw up a map of the air raid shelters in Madrid,” says Javier Rubio, a historian whose brother was hiding in Madrid at the time.
Small steps for the flashlight to illuminate. In 1938, a filthy, rusty cabling gave light to the whole refuge. There were also subterranean armchairs and red velvet, but this is not the case now.
The chroniclers wrote that seeing a drunk and desperate man who pushed and jumped over elderly people and children was not unusual. Here is a quick but military descent. It is believed that this basement only sheltered the military of the Artillery Workshop, when a few meters away, in the Glorieta de Cuatro Caminos, a hospital had a similar space.
The lightbulbs, intact, but empty. The shelter is a labyrinth of intersecting galleries. The photographer and Javier, one of the construction workers, leads the route with lanterns. The cement benches show some marks, made by the archaeological study commissioned by the Community, which confirmed the finding. They are almost at ground level. “Capacity is estimated for between 80 and 100 people,” says Baquedano.
WHAT DID NOGAL KEYS SAY?
In 1938, Madrid was the epic of a lost war. General Miaja, a Republican hero, defended the trenches exposed to gunfire. Gun in hand, he shouted for men who knew how to die. Strips of paper were stuck to shop windows to prevent the bombing’s vibration from shattering them.
“Everybody went scared to his hole. Life had fled streets and squares; not a light, nor a noise in the ghostly environment of the big city,” said journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales. “This little bourgeois liberal” – so he described himself – who predicted the birth of a dictatorship regardless of the colour of victory, saw in the bombings a sort of lottery in which Madridians participated unconcerned: “Insensate and heroic, Madrid learned to live with joyful resignation. “
Little is left of that daily fear in these difficult tunnels, sometimes too narrow, fresh, guardians of absolute silence, still oblivious of the shopping centres that have grown up around them.
SÁNCHEZ MAZAS AND TALES TO FORGET
Some spoke, others were silent. Close or open your eyes? Different ways of coping. The fearful Rafael Sánchez Mazas, in the words of those who dealt with him then, wrote a novel to the rhythm of the bombs. For evasion and for other reasons. Chapter by chapter, he read it to his Falange colleagues at the Chilean embassy, where Carlos Morla Lynch, the diplomat in charge, provided refuge for them.
In the famous photo, Sánchez Mazas in the middle, several refugees listen to that unfinished novel of the title Rosa Kruger. Here the benches, in a row, do not invite conversation. Only recollection, although it may be the lack of habit.
In line with what Chaves said, Agustín de Foxa, in his “De Corte a Checa”, reflected: “At five o’clock in the morning, the local people commented on the bombardment by eating churros and drinking glasses of anise.”
“To leave a trail, not to disappear at all”
At the doors of the shelter, or perhaps inside, in these benches unequivocal proof of the finding, the tears of farewells ran. “Like those insects that perform the nuptial flight before they die, the men who were being sent to the Sierra or those who awaited in agitation their execution were longing for female presence and love so as to leave a trail, so as not to disappear altogether.”
“Little is known of this shelter,” Baquedano continues on this path of short steps. Archaeologists found no traces beyond the benches. The soldiers who arrived after the war used the subway as a shooting gallery. That is the reason for the gouges that bullets have left in the brickwork.
THE NOISE OF THE BOMBS
Suddenly a noise. Loud, deafening. The conversation ends abruptly. The cameraman and the journalist look at Javier, who laughs. “Calm down, the cranes are moving the scrap and it will have fallen up above.” It is a noise to make one cower and which makes the legs tremble.
A cosmopolitan and naive noise, which has nothing to do with the thunder of the shell that haunted Arturo Barea. In his “Forging of a Rebel” he confessed to having nightmares about the impact. He imagined the mutilation of bodies, their rotting, the limbs torn off the sidewalk … When the sirens began to sound and the danger became true, Barea reported feeling “a deep relief”, a result of the return to reality, the only way out then from that spiral of madness.
“My mouth was filled with vomit”
“We would go down to the basement, sit there with other guests, all in pajamas or gowns, while the antiaircraft barked and the explosions shook the building, sometimes my mouth filled with vomit, but it was a comfort because everything was real, I was deeply asleep,” he wrote.
On leaving, the light, and a city that beats, has nothing to do with that Madrid that, in Foxa’s words, turned off the lanterns for fear of bombing, while the last trams passed on their routes with their tragic, blue-green painted lights.
At the fence, several curious people approach the hole. Office workers, clerks, consultants, lawyers … In 1938, Barea said, there were neighbors of distant neighborhoods who came to see up close what a bombing was. “They left happy and proud with pieces of shrapnel, still hot, as a souvenir.”
Additional notes from translator, D. Breatnach:
There were a few words and phrases with which I had difficulty since the apparent translation from dictionaries did not seem to make sense in the article and I converted them into what seemed to be the sense in the text and context.
The future of the archaelogical site by law requires protection from the owners of the site in which it is located. It may or may not be open to limited or full public access.
In the original article there was a lovely version of the Viva la Quinta Brigada song, about the 5th Brigade of the Republican forces (not Christy Moore’s wonderful song which, despite the original title is about the 15th International Brigade). I tried to embed it here but failed but you may find it on the original article link below.
Original article: http://www.elespanol.com/espana/20170513/215728433_0.html