The sun is setting and I’ve spotted some wild rabbits – their white flickering tails really give them away. They’re in an old trench digging diagonally into the pebbly soil, but possess no knowledge or concern over the possibility that they might be nesting alongside dismembered skeletons.
These soldiers’ untimely demise is marked only by the odd concrete outcrop doing its best to blend in but striking the eye with unease. Just a handful of Casa de Campo bunkers remain exposed, having stayed afloat as nature advanced around them. Join the dots between these wartime fortifications and you’ve found the old Western Front, and the most spectacular views over Madrid.
THE WESTERN FRONT
Parque Casa de Campo was a perfect vantage point for Franco’s troops to attack Madrid, so they set up a sequence of bunkers, trenches and machine gun posts in an almost uninterrupted north-south line, west of Madrid. Standing at each bunker, I can imagine Franco’s soldiers taking a brief moment to enjoy the sunset over Madrid, just like I am. But, unlike me, they had plans to conquer the city.
From the bunkers, I can see the buildings where the Republicans were staring right back. Around 25,000 men and women did their best to fight back from the city-side of the front line but, even with the arrival of some 2,500 International Brigades and a fire in their belly, they’d be pummelled.
The Casa de Campo was the scene of brutal killings during the Spanish Civil War. It would take eight years for Franco’s regime to clear away the blown-up bodies, shrapnel and unexploded ordnance before the public were allowed to enter the park once again. But why did they leave some bunkers behind? They’re stubborn but not unburiable. Perhaps they remain so we would never forget, yet somehow, many of us never even knew that they were here. With this map, all of that is about to change.
Between Casa de Campo, Parque de la Cuña Verde de Latina and Parque Jaime del Amo, here’s a gallery of the remaining Spanish Civil War fortifications I’ve found:
Over the decades, many bunkers have been buried by the park’s tides of mud and debris. Here, one small part remains exposed:
Behind the bunker below, we can see the remains of trenches weaving between the trees:
Note the rabbit holes behind the bunker, edging into the trenches. They’re dug diagonally into the buried fortifications:
Machine gun posts in Parque Oeste remain in almost perfect condition:
Subtle artwork carved directly into the concrete on the back of one of the gun posts:
A frame for a stork’s nest now sits on top of the tallest and best preserved machine gun post:
The entrance to the gun posts have been sealed up with concrete:
In Parque de la Cuña Verde de Latina, we can see some of the best preserved bunkers in the city:
A pillbox, perfectly preserved, on the side of a footpath:
And finally, here’s a huge crater caused by an underground explosion in a mine dug by Asturian miners to weaken Franco’s defences, who were positioned in the Hospital Clínico. There was no sign, no marker or plaque – just a fire pit in the middle.
MAP OF MADRID’S BUNKERS
When I finally connected the dots of Madrid’s remaining war fortifications – only the ones I happened upon myself – the Western Front suddenly reemerged before my eyes, as though it never really disappeared.
Many more fortifications along the Western Front remain unmarked and perhaps I’ve overlooked a dozen more. Take a walk along the front line using my map and see if you can find the bunkers and trenches I’ve marked, and those I’ve missed.