First things first was breakfast. My roommates and I had accidentally slept trough breakfast the day before, so we made an effort to be on time today. Especially since breakfast was included in our accommodations, we weren’t giving it up two days in a row. We then gathered downstairs in the lobby of the hotel to wait for the bus driver. After getting on the bus, we were ready for our one hour ride to the mountains surrounding Madrid, where we were to visit Valle de los Caídos, or “The Valley of the Fallen.”
Driving up upon the mountains, we could see the cross of the Valley of the Fallen off in the distance. The cross built on top of this monument is the largest Catholic cross in the world.
When we arrived at the entrance to the monument, the bus parked and we got out in the cold. This was our first time seeing snow in Spain during this trip. We ended up waiting outside for about a half an hour waiting for our tour guide to arrive – she had been told the tour was to start an hour later. This was great group bonding time.
When she showed up, she gave us a brief history about the Valley of the Fallen monument, which was commissioned to be built by the fascist dictator, General Francisco Franco. He had this monument built to keep the bodies of the rebels that died fighting for his side during the Spanish Civil war.
We took some pictures and then walked inside.
Walking into the monument, I think everyone was a bit surprised. The inside was built into the mountain, so we really were inside of the mountain in a man-made cave. There were signs everywhere asking for quiet and respect, since it was a religious place. Deeper inside, everywhere you looked had some religious meaning. There truly was a cathedral built inside of a mountain. The tour guide told us about how mass is still held at the cathedral every day. There is a nearby boarding school where boys are taught to sing and they make up the choir at the daily mass. The outside of the cathedral were statues of archangels to protect the inside. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the inside, but he decoration and architecture really was quite incredible and impressive. Most of what we toured was built for the Catholics. Right in front of the cross was the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was the founder of the fascist Falange party in Spain, which Franco later became a part of. There were a pile of roses on a plaque with his name on it, which is placed there by the Catholic monks of the church. General Franco’s body used to be buried there until 2019, when it was removed by helicopter. There were also several separate prayer rooms with mosaics on the ceilings. Behind the prayer rooms were the tombs of 40,00 people, not all of them identified. In the center of the cathedral was Jesus on a cross, and the cross inside the monuments directly underneath the one that sits on top of it. The ceiling was a huge mosaic that took the artist months to make. The sides of the hall were filled with symbols of all of the Virgins, with tapestries and murals created to mimic medieval style art.
The air felt clean and cold, due to the whole in the ceiling that circulated the air inside with the mountain air. After a little while, all of the students started to feel heavy- due to both the actual weight of the monument inside of the mountain, as well as the weight of all of the religiousness inside of the monument.
We finished our tour, checked out the gift shop, and then headed back into the city. This day just happened to be International Women’s Day, so there were marches in the streets that caused traffic and road closures. Instead of taking the bus back to the hotel, we got off at Plaza de Espana.
Then, since I am vegetarian, I went off on my own from the rest of the group to find one of Madrid’s many vegetarian restaurants. Fun fact, Madrid is on the top 10 list of Europe’s most vegan friendly cities. I got a plate of tapas and double layer veggie burger and it was delicious.
My experience so far has been wonderful. I have always loved travelling and seeing new places. This city is incomparable to any I’ve seen in the United States. It is similar to New York in size, similar to Boston in architecture, and absolutely nothing like Lowell.