85th anniversary of Guernica. A tragedy that should not have happened again

Despite the terrible coincidence of tragic dates (April 1937 - March 2022), we would not like to delve into gloomy symbolism. The parallels between war crimes in Spain and Ukraine are certainly obvious. But in this article, we would like to focus on the topic of urban planning in pre-war and modern Guernica and pay attention to the specifics and reasons for the reconstruction of the destroyed city.

The Biscay town of Guernica, destroyed on April 26, 1937 by the bombing, which was jointly carried out by the German "Condor" legion and the Italian legionary aviation, became a symbol of the "total war" strategy of the XNUMXth century. For decades, historians and military experts have searched for logic in these actions.

Why were the strikes not on the factories where weapons were produced (all three military factories survived, as well as the strategic bridge), but on the residential and commercial areas of the city? What was the meaning of terror against civilians?

According to one of the versions, the commander of the attack, the future Field Marshal of the Luftwaffe Wolfram von Richthofen, believed that it was through Guernica that the Francoists should attack Bilbao, and thus cleared the way for them. But perhaps no logic is worth looking for (just as it is absent in the bombing of the Borodyanka residential high-rises near Kyiv in March 2022).

In 1937, in the then Cold War with Great Britain, the Germans, under the pretext of supporting Franco, used terror as a political weapon and a demonstration of future bombings during the Second World War. It is wild to realize that after 85 years, Ukrainians have become victims of the same strategy on the part of Russia.

An old Spanish house with frescoes on the facade, photographed in 1922 and destroyed during an attack in 1937

85% of the buildings in Guernica were destroyed or critically damaged

Houses on wooden frames burned to the ground. As a result of the attack, 85% of the buildings were completely destroyed, the rest were seriously damaged

The center of Guernica-Lumo after the air attack

Before the raid of the "experimental squadron" of the Condor Legion, Guernica Lumo was a traditional provincial Spanish town. Founded in the XNUMXth century, it was planned as a series of parallel streets intersected at right angles by another cross street, with churches located at opposite ends of the urban area.

A little more than 5 people lived in the municipality, and all their lives were strictly regulated for centuries: work, church, market. Monday was a market day, when peasants from the suburbs came to the city. That is why the Germans chose Monday for the raid: they tried to maximize the number of victims in advance.

A total of 30 bombs, including incendiary bombs, were dropped on Guernica in three hours, which caused a large-scale fire that continued for several days. Houses on wooden frames burned to the ground. As a result of the attack, 85% of the buildings were completely destroyed, the rest were seriously damaged. According to reports collected before the reconstruction began, only 1% of the city's structures survived - a few buildings in the very center and a few, including military factories - on the outskirts.

The number of human victims turned out to be large, but not commensurate with the scale of destruction. In a small town with a population of about 5 thousand people, everyone knew each other. And, after counting the living, the authorities came to the conclusion that less than 3% of the population died, according to official data entered in the city annals - 126 people.

However, the Francoists, who entered the city (more precisely, what remained of it) within a few days, did everything to destroy the evidence of the crime. Therefore, the death toll in Guernica is a matter of debate. The Euskadi government insists that there were more than 1,5 victims. Researchers are unanimous in one thing: the number is in any case disproportionate to the volume of destruction.

What kind of miracle saved the population? First of all, the actions of the city authorities. The air raid on Guernica was not the first in the history of this bloody civil war. A year earlier in July, on the orders of the rebel command, two Breguet XIX planes dropped bombs on the Biscay town of Ochandiano, killing 84 people and injuring more than a hundred.

After drawing conclusions, Guernica's city architect Castor Uriarte and an engineer invited from Madrid, Manuel Cabañez, designed and built a series of urban storage facilities. These were three public underground bunkers made of cast concrete, connected by galleries, and three more under large factories. Rich townspeople also built bunkers under their villas.

Bunker of the military factory Talleres de Guernica, where several hundred people were hiding

Cast concrete bunkers and a warning system - this is the simplest set of measures and saved most of the population of Guernica

The inhabitants of Guernica came out of their shelters on the streets of their destroyed city

The Municipal Defense Department of Guernica has developed a rudimentary but effective signal system for notifying the population of possible attacks. The chat operator on the hill, seeing the planes, waved red flags and signaled to the watchman on the church bell tower, and he began to sound the alarm. This simplest set of measures saved the majority of Guernica's population.


Reconstruction of "wasted lands"

Thanks to the war correspondent George Steer, whose report "The Tragedy of Guernica" was published in British and American newspapers a day after the raid, the whole world learned about the barbaric bombing.

The Franco regime tried to absolve itself of responsibility. At first, the Francoists blamed the republicans. The newspaper Azul published a rebuttal saying that the enemies are brazenly lying, "attributing this crime to the heroic and noble aviation of our National Army at a time when the national aviation did not fly through the fog."

Then, realizing that such a version is absolutely fantastic, Franco declared that Operation Rügen was an exclusive initiative of the Germans. But it also did not rehabilitate the Francoists in the eyes of the world public. However, not all Europeans were ready to accept such terrible facts. Pablo Picasso's canvas, which became the heart of the Spanish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in Paris, according to the architect Corbusier, "saw the backs of visitors."

The idealistic bourgeois considered the painting "Guernica" to be propaganda and did not want to admit that their generation had allowed such barbarism. However, the world response was amazing, and that is why the question of restoring Guernica became a matter of principle for Caudillo (leader) Franco.

Map showing destroyed and damaged buildings in Guernica

All that remains of wealthy houses on one of the streets of Guernica

After the victory, Franco formed the General Directorate of Devastated Regions and Reparations (SNRDR), whose role was to rebuild the destroyed cities. An audit of the destruction in Guernica revealed that the city would have to be rebuilt from scratch. The surviving buildings could be counted on the fingers. This is the old courthouse (where the Peace Museum is located today), the Gothic Church of St. Mary, the Baroque Alegria Palace, the House of Assembly.

Miraculously, the historic Guernica Tree survived, the oak around which the Lords of Biscay gathered (today, a young tree is planted in its place, and the old trunk was museumified, placing it under a dome with a colonnade). At that time, the city resembled deserted ruins, the townspeople migrated to neighboring villages or left the region altogether. However, it was decided to start the construction of a city designed to accommodate 12 thousand people.

The Guernica reconstruction project was developed by architects Gonzalo de Cárdenas and Luis Gana. It should be noted that no manifestation of modern liberalism or functionalism was allowed in city planning and architecture. The Caudillo personally supervised all plans and sketches, demanding that the new buildings represent a return to historicism and illustrate the "new imperial style."

Planning was based on strict zoning. The core of the city consisted of the main street and the square with administrative buildings. Residential buildings were located around according to the principle "the most expensive buildings are closer to the center." Industrial and agricultural zones were formed on the outskirts.

In order to start construction, it was necessary to first remove more than 60 tons of debris. The territory was cleared only at the end of 1941. At first, it was planned that the restoration of the city would take place at the expense of private capital. The government promised to issue loans at 3% per annum for 30 years with tax exemption. But that didn't do much to stimulate a region with completely depleted resources. Therefore, the construction was carried out mainly by the forces of prisoners of war and prisoners.

The architecture of the center of Guernica is a complex mix of surviving medieval walls and buildings from the 50s and 60s

The mix of facades in the style of Spanish neoclassicism with functional planning was called "style of desolate regions"

House of Assembly of Guernica - a building in the neoclassical style, created by the architect Antonio de Echeverría, survived the bombing

The Spanish Revival and Neoclassical styles, which the architects tried to follow, required the use of expensive materials: cut stone, marble and high-quality metal. It was impossible to ensure uninterrupted supply during the Second World War. Therefore, the recovery process was delayed.

Despite his retrograde aesthetic preferences, Francisco Franco was an adept of new, improved sanitary standards. Therefore, its architects, when designing residential buildings, adhered to progressive principles, which in many respects echo the principles of the Bauhaus.

The housing was designed as blocks of 3-4-story buildings, united by a residential area. All rooms in the apartments had windows as a source of ventilation and insolation. Apartments were built with a separate bathroom and several bedrooms. The living room — a passage room — was often combined with the kitchen.

This mix of facades in Spanish neoclassicism with functional planning has received its own name - "style of desolate regions".

Ceramic panel - a reproduction of the famous painting by Picasso, mounted on a surviving wall in Guernica

Installation of the artist Liam Gillick on the facade of the Astra cultural center - in the building of a former military factory

Modern planning

Today, city planners in Guernica are busy doing the same thing as their counterparts in other European post-war cities: they are fixing mistakes. First of all, this is the rejection of zoning in favor of a mixed model, the expansion of the cultural cluster and the development of post-industrial zones.

The general plan of Guernica-Lumo was approved in 2016. Its goal is to "rethink historic buildings and symbols and create a more friendly and sustainable model for all residents." Annually, about 10% of the city budget is invested in improving the quality of the city environment.

Most of the projects financed by the city have a pronounced social character: they are aimed at increasing the accessibility of streets and the development of urban transport. In order to approve commercial development projects, they must have a social component.

Everyday modern life on the streets of Guernica-Lumo

Most of the projects financed by the city have a pronounced social character. This is an increase in the accessibility of streets, the development of urban transport

Compared to neighboring Bilbao, Guernica-Lumo does not boast of architectural monuments, but it has a reputation as a "city convenient for a simple life"

The pavilions of the Talleres de Guernica military factory, designed at the beginning of the XNUMXth century by the architect Ricardo Bastida, have today been transformed into the Astra cultural center. One of the facades is decorated with an installation by artist Liam Gillick.

This demonstrative anti-war gesture, as well as the ceramic reproduction of Pablo Picasso's famous canvas on one of the walls that miraculously survived in the city center, are designed to show residents and tourists that war crimes and strategies of total war have no place in the civilized world. But today we state with bitterness that a repetition of the tragedy is possible in any, even the most prosperous corner of the planet.


Main image source: Reintearte.com