In the midst of the Civil War, the national side created tourist war routes to bring foreign visitors to the regions that had fallen under their control. Of the four initially planned, only two materialized, the northern one, which from the French border visited the Cantabrian provinces after the fall of the Northern Front (they visited San Sebastián, Santander, the Iron Belt of Bilbao, Oviedo destroyed after the siege, Altamira or Covadonga, in trips of about nine days), and that of Andalusia.
The objective was twofold: on the one hand, to make propaganda abroad for the national side; on the other, getting foreign exchange (the trip cost eight pounds sterling). Despite understandable logistical difficulties (at the same time, for example, the Battle of the Ebro, the bloodiest of the war, took place), they were successful: if the routes began in the summer of 1938, they had already been traveled by December of the following year. more than 8,000 travelers. They survived the Spanish war, but were transformed by World War II, which made foreign tourism difficult. Then they dedicated themselves to national tourism.
“They wanted to give the idea of a peaceful, abundant and calm rearguard”, explains José García Fernández, author of the recent book Route of the Civil War in Oviedo (KRK / Juan Muñiz Zapico Foundation). In his work he tells how this tourism was used to fix the story of the deed of Oviedo, the defense of the city against the republican siege as another heroic version of that of the Alcazar of Toledo, but which never became so important in the imagination of the Regime.
Travelers (Germans, Italians, Belgians, generally sympathizers of the national side) were transported by coaches: 20 Dodge vehicles had been purchased, of which in the United States were used for school transport. The ALSA company took care of maintenance and the drivers had to wear the Falangist uniform (blue shirt, red beret), always clean-shaven and avoiding spitting on the ground or urinating on the shoulder. Interpreter guides were also trained, who took the travelers to the places where the front had been, which were marked with two signs, “us” and “them”, sometimes a few meters away.
It was not the only attraction: machine gun nests or fortified lines were visited. In places like Oviedo, war museums are quickly created, where howitzers, flags or photographs of the war are exhibited. “It was also about cleaning the image of the red and revolutionary Asturias of 34, the land of the dynamite miners, something that was convenient for the oligarchies of the region,” explains García.
“Let’s say we find tourism at the service of war,” says Rafael Vallejo, professor of History and Economic Institutions at the University of Vigo. The trips were organized by the new National Tourism Service, with journalist Luis Antonio Bolín at the helm, the same one who had chartered the plane Rapid Dragon to transfer Franco to Morocco from the Canary Islands and start the military uprising. Everything within the ministry of brother-in-law by Franco, Ramón Serrano Suñer.
At that time, Spain was not yet a tourist power, as it began to be during the time of developmentalism, although the Spanish war was passionately followed abroad as a battlefield for great ideologies and a prelude to the European war.
Global tourism had indeed experienced some growth. “Prices had fallen, transport had been revolutionized and tourism was an activity that began to appeal to the middle class, although without becoming mass tourism as it would be from the 1950s on,” Vallejo explains.
On the routes of Spain they wanted to show that the war was compatible with tourism and it was demonstrated. Today I would enter into what they call dark tourism (dark tourism), dedicated to visiting former concentration camps or damaged nuclear power plants.