Nestling beneath the mountainous flanks of the Sierra de Huetor, the meandering country road that connects the towns of Alfacar and Viznar in Granada province is a popular evening stroll for local people.
Although peaceful today, this place will always be associated with the tragic events of the Spanish Civil War, when it was the scene of mass executions by the forces of the Fascist Falange movement, and the interment of uncounted bodies in mass graves such as those of the Barranco de Viznar, many of which have yet to be investigated.
Death of a Poet
The most infamous victim of these atrocities was Federico Garcia Lorca, one of Spain´s greatest twentieth century poets and playwrights. Many theories have been advanced as to the reasons for Federico´s assassination, including prejudice related to his homosexuality and political leanings, but none of these are conclusively convincing. It is true that some of his literary works had upset the Catholic establishment and the Civil Guard, but he had friends on both sides of the growing political divide and he was essentially apolitical in character.
Federico and a group of other men were murdered by a firing squad in the early hours of 18th August 1936, and his body consigned to a communal grave. The location of these events has long been a source of debate and controversy and now, a new search is attempting to resolve this enduring mystery.
The 2009 Search
In Autumn 2009, the town of Alfacar came under international scrutiny when an excavation failed to locate Federico´s remains. This search took place at a location just above the town, close to the famous spring known as Fuente Grande and within the boundaries of the Federico Garcia Lorca Memorial Park. The excavation was endorsed by the Irish-born writer and hispanist, Ian Gibson, who has dedicated many years to researching the poet´s life and death.
In 1966, Gibson was taken to this location by a man known locally as “Manolo the Communist”. As a teenager, Manolo was forced to dig graves by the Fascist death squads and he told Gibson that he had buried Federico´s body at this location.
Any attempt to verify these claims had to wait until after the death of the dictator Franco and Spain´s transition to democracy. In addition, Lorca´s family was initially against any plan to disturb his resting place. With many other families petitioning the judiciary for permission to search for their murdered loved ones and a change in the law regarding such investigations, the Lorca family eventually agreed to the excavation.
New Search, Old Evidence
This 2009 search failed to locate any human remains, however, and the attention has now turned to a completely different location thanks to the painstaking research of the investigator and historian, Miguel Caballero, the author of a book entitled “Las trece últimas horas en la vida de Garcia Lorca” (The Last Thirteen Hours of Garcia Lorca). Caballero has been granted permission by the Town Council of Alfacar to conduct a survey at a location known as Peñon del Colorado, opposite the smallholding of Cortijo Gazpacho just above the road halfway between Alfacar and the neighbouring village of Viznar. This is the location of the parade ground where Falangist troops exercised during the early days of the Civil War.
Caballero has based much of his evidence on a painstaking analysis of the research of Eduardo Molina Fajardo (1914-1979), whose posthumous book, “Los últimos dias de Garcia Lorca”, contains 48 testimonies and interviews with those most closely associated with Federico´s death. Fajardo was himself a member of the Falange, and among the interviewees was his friend, José María Nestares, the military chief of Viznar during the summer of 1936.
During the interviews, Nestares drew a diagram indicating where he believed Federico to have been shot and buried. He also told Fajardo that he had been informed by Manolo Martinez Buezo, who was present at the execution, that Federico was dressed in pyjamas and was the second to the left of those who were executed that night. Fajardo later visited the location indicated in the drawing and took photographs of the site and the distinctive boulders that mark it.
The Physical Evidence
The arrangement of these stones is important because they appear to have been placed here deliberately. It was common practice for death squads to mark the mass graves with rocks as they were intended to be temporary graves, and needed to be relocated. Similar clues have enabled the detection of other Civil War graves elsewhere in Spain.
These stones have remained in place for so long because the terrain is poor and only suitable for pasturing livestock. When Nestares´ son also visited the site with Fajardo, he confirmed his father´s testimony and pointed out three patches of bare ground with slight depressions, frequently indicative of failed attempts to sink wells, or, the excavation of graves.
A Perfect Killing Ground
Another factor that point towards this as a potential execution site, is its location. It is sufficiently far from Alfacar and Viznar that the murders could have been carried out without attracting unwanted attention (unlike the Fuente Grande location), and it is situated on a road with bends that obscure the view from the nearest houses.
Also, the open location ensured that there was enough space for the vehicles transporting the victims to manoeuvre, and their headlights could be used to illuminate the execution ground.
Furthermore, this was in effect a war zone and the after-dark curfew meant that the Nationalist forces under the command of Nestares could carry out their orders unobserved.
The Survey and Its Implications
At the end of January and beginning of February 2012, the Peñon del Colorado site will be subject to a brief preliminary survey to establish whether human remains are present. The vegetation and topsoil will be removed and the area examined using GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) to obtain images of what lies below the surface.
If an exhumation is authorized and if forensic tests should prove that Federico Garcia Lorca is among the victims interred in this place, what happens next is speculation. His fate has been the focus of such intense emotion and political manouvring over the years that what potentially lies beneath the arid soil of Peñon del Colorado could add fuel to the debate over Spain´s uncomfortable recent past.
- Eduardo Molina Fajardo: Los últimos días de Garcia Lorca Editorial Almuzara; ISBN 978 84 92924 50
- Steve Kingstone: BBC News: Dig may lay Spanish poet mystery to rest: news.bbc.co.uk
- Juan Luis Tapia: Ideal.com: La segunda búsqueda de Lorca: www.ideal.es