The ruins of the university hospital in 1937. Archivo Rojo.
This year we are returning to Madrid for another round of archaeological work. We will be excavating at the Moncloa campus, near the university hospital, where some of the fiercest combats took place during the battle for the capital (8-23 November 1936). This was the part of the frontline where the Nationalists came closer to the heart of the city. It was also the scenario of one of the first truly urban battles of the twentieth century, with soldiers fighting building by building, room by room, armed with grenades, bayonets and pistols. Scenes that would be common during the Second World War (in Stalingrad or Berlin), in later wars (Hue in Vietnam), and still today (in Gaza, Aleppo or Raqqa). The university hospital became a symbol of stubborness and defiance for the attacking troops. It is perhaps for this reason that the Republican forces were asked to surrender precisely there in 1939.
The hospital was reconstructed after the war and serves as a medical center still today. It is thus impossible to excavate it. But a garden lies at its feet that once had many pavillions and structures that were used as parapets and shelters during the war. They belonged to the Asilo de Santa Cristina, a nursing home for orphans and the elderly built in 1895. They were heavily damaged by the combats and demolished after 1939.
Photo of one of the Santa Cristina buildings in front of the hospital during the war.
(c) Fernando Calvo González de la Reguera and El Hotel de Sudance.
The place is now planted with pine trees, but here and there it is possible to see construction debris (tiles, bricks, concrete), some sherds of whiteware, glass, even the odd bit of shrapnel. History is waiting for us under the surface. We will excavate several test pits to see whether anything remains of one of the buildings, which was used as a mess hall during the war (image above). It was next to this building where the Republican command surrendered the 28th of March 1939.
In this same area we can see one of the most dramatic remnants of the conflict on campus: a large crater created by the explosion of a mine. The hole was so huge that it was used as a field hospital during the war and as a shelter by homeless people afterwards. We will also dig here.
Map of the university hospital and the Asilo de Santa Cristina during the
war, with trenches and mines.
The campus has still plenty of suprises to offer to those interested in the history of the Spanish Civil War and the history of twentieth century conflict in general. We will be exploring its secrets during the month of July. Follow us and share the excitement of discovery!