Guernica (Gernika in Basque) was, of course, made famous by Picasso with his painting, representations of which are found around the town,
this one created out of tiles. The original is in Milan.
At about 16:30 on Monday 26 April 1937, a market day during the Spanish Civil War, the German Luftwaffe bombed the town for almost four hours.
Guernica was the spiritual home of the Basques who were siding with this Republican side in resisting Franco’s Nationalists, supported by Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. (Remember the fascist pairing in the Bordeaux submarine pens). Guernica also had arms factories Franco wanted. For these and other reasons the bombing happened, killing up to 1600 civilians. Estimates vary as Franco would not allow the rubble to be cleared until 1941, attempting to hide the event from the world.
Fortunately, British war correspondent, George Steer
has got the story published in London two days after it happened rand this report inspired Picasso to paint his picture.
He isn’t the only artist contributing work to the town. Henry Moore made one of his last works before he died,
called Large Figure in a Shelter, reference to the population heading for bomb shelters every time planes were spotted.
Nearby is this, by Basque artist Eduardo Chillida,
called Our Father’s House, as it’s like viewing a tree through a window. A tree is a potent Basque symbol representing their culture. Their leaders would gather around an oak to make decisions and swear oaths. One old tree still stands in the grounds of their assembly house,
protected now. There is a current tree.
Also in the park stands this,
a woman being consumed by flames. (I am writing this in sight of these three sculptures, once again waiting for cool breeze, the warm air heavy with the smell of clematis I think, though I’m not Alan Titmarsh.) Remember Oradour-sur-Glane, the French village wiped out by Nazis, this sculpture is on a tall pillar at the edge of the new town. (Not a good place for photos which is why I didn’t share it). Guernica is now a peace city with formal ties to other destroyed towns, including Hiroshima.
The Museum telling the story of the bombing is called the Peace Museum. It had some very effective displays.
Besides the church and a bridge, nothing of 1937 Guernica remains. It is now a pleasant but anonymous town, enriched by its take on retelling its story.
When travelling France I’d often see locals, young and old, playing pétanque. A Basque sport is pelota, played with a ball on a court,
a bit like squash, but only using your hand. I watched these guys playing it earlier.
Apparently this court, or fronton, is considered world class, so another thing Guernica has.
When I went to grammar school in Trowbridge, in the first woodwork class we all made our ‘padder’ bat to play padder against marked walls, similar to pelota. We called balls ‘pills’, I never thought about why, but it may come from the short Latin for leather ball. Hence pelota, ball game, pila, leather ball, pellet a derivation and a schoolboys balls, pills! Ah, the glories of a classical education, Vulgar Latin and Wikipedia!