Tag Archive | Almeria

One Sunday in February – Massacre on the Road to Almeria

One nefarious day in February 78 years ago, over half the population of Malaga fled to the countryside, down the long and difficult seaside road to Almeria that was their only escape route. Behind them, the invading troops of General Franco, already crowing victory. And on all sides, Italian, German and Franquist naval ships and war planes showering bombs down on the fleeing and defenceless civilians, in the forgotten Massacre of the Road to Almeria.

Malaga 1937

Most of this human column of fleeing refugees, over 150,000 souls, was made up of women, children and families, who had had nothing to do with the war. As happens in all wars, it’s the politicians and military men who make the decision to attack, and the civilian population – women, children and ordinary men just trying to make a living doing whatever they can – who pay the high price.

The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) was, like all wars, complicated and difficult to explain. Most people supported the Republicans. However, the opposition, led by Francisco Franco, enjoyed the support of the Fascist troops of Germany and Italy, and it wasn’t long before they began to conquer the entire country.

Wherever the Franquists went, people fled. Like all invaders, Franco’s troops were notorious for their savagery and barbarism. They looted, stole, raped, murdered, tortured and took whatever they wanted.

So it wasn’t surprising that as soon as the inhabitants of Malaga discovered that these invaders were at their doorstep, they took to the road and fled.

In those days the only unoccupied route out of Malaga was along the dangerous and sinuous road to Almeria. There was little place to hide along the road: it wound its way between the sheer cliffs that fell down towards the sea on one side, and the high mountains on the other. The distance from Malaga to Almeria: 219 km.

That ill-fated Sunday morning, people woke up to the sounds of the Franquist troops surrounding the city, grabbed their things and ran. Those who could climbed into cars, trucks or onto donkeys and mules. The rest had to make their way on foot.

16-year-old Ana María Jiménez woke up in her home in the Capuchinos neighbourhood, looked out the window and saw Francisco Franco’s troops on the mountains overlooking the city, with their cannons and their flags and their muskets.

Her family, like most other families living in Malaga, loaded their belongings onto a truck heading out of town and started on their way. In Rincon de la Victoria, on the outskirts of Malaga, they ran out of gasoline and continued the rest of the way on foot.

“I didn’t understand much about the war at that time,” recalls José Martos, who was only six back then, “but I had it clear that we were running from the Fascists.”

Malaga 1937

The journey lasted a week. Along the way, as the naval ships drew up close to the shore and began pelting them with bombs and bullets, people started to fall. The Italian and German aviation added their two cents’ worth by riddling the straggling survivors with more bombs.

There was no reason for doing this, other than the cruelty, sadism and taste for innocent blood of the militants who ordered and carried out these attacks.

The people fleeing along the road weren’t Franco’s enemies. They were just families trying to make a living during hard times. They were carpenters and farmers and cooks and schoolteachers. Mothers with babies and little children.

Malaga 1937

A woman stops to feed her baby, surrounded by dead people, on the long road from Malaga to Almeria

The man who ordered this cowardly attack against the defenceless citizens, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, explains it thus: “Those masses of people were fleeing, they were getting away. So I thought, why not make them run a little harder?”

The people who survived did so by hiding in holes, ducking down on the ground, rolling behind stones or anything that could shelter them.

Along the way, Ana María and the other refugee children met families who had lost loved ones. Parents burying children in holes in the ground. Entire families lying dead together.

The group found respite about halfway down the road: at Motril, the International Brigade succeeded in halting the enemy attacks and the people were free to continue their journey without death raining down from the sky. However, by then most were so exhausted they could hardly walk.

Suddenly, salvation surged up out of nowhere. Like a dashing white knight in shining armour at the head of a flaming cavalry, the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune arrived with a party of trucks to drive them the rest of the way to Almeria.

Norman Bethune was a Canadian doctor working the Republican frontlines bringing medical aid during the Spanish Civil War. He was in Valencia when he received news of the forced exodus from Malaga, and he hurried to Malaga as quickly as he could.

Malaga 1937

Norman Bethune with his ambulance

Over and over again, the trucks took off overflowing with people, then returned for more. Norman Bethune himself rode in a vehicle which he had converted into an ambulance, where he attended to the ill and the wounded.

The odyssey didn’t end in Almeria for most of the families on this trail. When they arrived in that remote city, most made their way out on ships and trains and travelled to Barcelona. Some of these families remained in Barcelona for the duration of the war while others journeyed into exile, returning only after the war had ended.

Photo credits: Norman Bethune

For more information:

El camino de los olvidados (Diario Sur)

La matanza de la carretera de Almería (El País)

La matanza de la carretera de Almería (Málaga en Blanco y Negro)


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In the Studio of Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez DiazAntonio López Díaz is a painter and sculptor. He’s also a genius. And one of the seven members of the Movimiento Indaliano that was founded in a culturally impoverished, post-war Almeria, in the south-east corner of Spain.

Antonio Lopez DiazAntonio Lopez became known most especially for his very personal style and his inimitable portrayal of daily life in the streets and villages of a traditional Almeria that no longer exists today.

Although I cropped most of the photos to only show the painting in question, here I felt like revealing how Antonio Lopez has all his paintings set up, one right next to the other, above and below, some way up high on the walls, some leaning on other paintings and some propped up on the floor (usually against another painting), in his studio.

In recent years, however, he became fascinated with modern and abstract art, and his hypnotic use of light and colour permeates all his latest work.

Antonio Lopez has been drawing and painting since he was almost a toddler. In fact, in his studio he pulled out an old painting that he had made at school when he was only six, which was when he discovered his precocious vocation.

These are two of his best-known works, and have been featured in numerous exhibitions.

Nonetheless, he only started studying formally when he was fourteen, and soon he signed up for classes with the Movement’s founder, the painter and sculptor Jesús de Perceval who was already a master artist. The two maintained a close friendship until the latter passed away in 1985.

The seven members of the Movimiento Indaliano, all of them painters, sculptors and artists, revived the pretty much inexistent cultural scene in a city devastated by the Spanish Civil War during the 1940’s. They adopted the traditional symbol of Almeria, the Indalo, as their logo, hence the name Movimiento Indaliano.

Antonio Lopez DiazAntonio Lopez has lived a very picturesque and exciting life. After studying under the tutelage of Jesus de Perceval for several years, he decided to strike out on his own and moved to Brazil. There, he became quite renowned, and many of his paintings and sculptures still decorate public places, churches and altars today.

Antonio Lopez DiazThis sculpture of a dog is in his studio, but you can see another, almost identical one gracing a street in Almeria.

He eventually returned to Almeria, where you can also see samples of his paintings and sculptures as you walk around the city. I feel very privileged to know Antonio López.

This is his octopus stool, and next to it, a sculpted self-portrait.

Antonio Lopez DiazThe master himself at work in his studio.

Antonio Lopez DiazThis bronze statue, which was commissioned by the City of Almeria, stands in a quiet garden plaza in the city centre. (I’d taken some photos of my son standing next to it too, but he kept showing up with funny faces! Hence those photos are respectfully not included here.)

Antonio Lopez DiazThe general public won’t be able to see this mural painting of the Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, because it decorates the entrance to the apartment building where Antonio Lopez lives.

Antonio Lopez DiazThe master painter, relaxing in his studio surrounded by my sons and his works of art.

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