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Spain celebrates 75th anniversary of the 'Great Retreats' from Belchite

Spain is unquestionably one of the leading travel destinations in Europe. In a bid to attract even more visitors to the country, the Spanish government is launching a major campaign to promote the little known town of Belchite, located in the country’s southern province of Zaragoza.

Spain celebrates 75th anniversary of the Great Retreats from Belchite
San Martin de Tours church, in the old village of Belchite, now abandoned [Credit: Wiki Commons]
The Spanish Civil War left many villages and towns ruined and deserted. One of these was Belchite. Between August 24 and September 7, 1937, loyalist Spanish Republican and rebel General Franco's forces fought the decisive Battle of Belchite which literally destroyed everything in and around the town.

After 1939, General Franco ordered the construction of a new town near the ruins of the old. Belchite was thus preserved in situ as an open-air museum, a veritable ‘ghost town’, to serve as a bleak memorial to the war and Franco’s victory.

The remains of the old town have also served as filming locations for numerous movies, the most notable of which are Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.

Today Belchite boasts a little hotel and a cafe, and most of its 1,700 or so inhabitants work either as tourist guides or in the surrounding olive plantations.

In recent years Belchite has been enjoying a steady rise in the number of visitors, both Spanish and foreign, who come to pay homage to the soldiers and civilians who died defending their motherland.

Now the Spanish government has initiated excavation and restoration works aimed not only at recovering the remains of the soldiers killed in the battle of Belchite, as well as artifacts from the Spanish Civil War, but also to create a more fitting war memorial.

Excavations are scheduled to begin this summer and volunteers participating in the project will be provided with food and housing during their stay.

Belchite is also attracting international attention for its numerous churches on account of their evident architectural similarities with those of the Jesuit missions in Latin America. Indeed, Belchite is often referred to as a second Santiago de Compostelo.

Another reason Belchite is being heavily promoted as a new tourist destination is Spain’s recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the so-called ‘Great Retreats’. As part of the celebrations the members of the American support-group, Americans in Spain Veteran Soldiers, are planning to visit Spain this year to honour their 400 compatriots who fought and died at the side of the inhabitants of Belchite.

While no-one can deny that Madrid, Seville and Barcelona are the top tourist destinations in Spain, the small town of Belchite is surely also worth the visit.

This is a guest post by Vera Petryk, an author for Spain.net [April 17, 2013]

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