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Three years restoring memory in Jimena

Part of the permanent exhibition at the Casa de la Memoria La Sauceda in Jimena.
Part of the permanent exhibition at the Casa de la Memoria La Sauceda in Jimena. / SUR
  • The Casa de la Memoria Civil War information and research centre is unique in Spain

  • The way the centre has evolved in three years has been "totally unexpected" says the president of the two associations which founded it

There is a saying that from little acorns great oak trees grow, and that certainly seems applicable to the Casa de la Memoria La Sauceda, in Jimena de la Frontera, Cadiz province, which has just celebrated its third anniversary.

This information centre about the Spanish Civil War was set up by two associations, the Forum for Historical Memory in the Campo de Gibraltar and the Association of Families affected by Francoist Repression, and in its three years of existence it has grown phenomenally to become a major research centre and a specialist library, the only one of its type in Spain.

The first question that springs to mind is: why Jimena? Why would a small village in the Campo de Gibraltar area have a facility of this type?

The answer is clear from the permanent exhibition on the ground floor of the Casa de la Memoria. Half is dedicated to the civil war in general in the Campo de Gibraltar, because this is one of the places where the war started, on 18 and 19 July 1936, when Franco brought troops across from Morocco and instilled terror into the local towns and villages. The exhibition includes information about the civil war in this area, the guerrilla movement in the Ronda mountains which continued until the 1950s and the way republican prisoners were used as slave labour to build roads and military facilities to prepare for the Second World War when the civil war ended.

The other reason this information centre is in Jimena, and this is why it is named after La Sauceda, is that this very rural area 25 kilometres from Jimena was bombarded by Franco's planes and attacked by four columns of troops on 31 October 1936. Those who survived were taken to a huge estate a few kilometres away, called El Marrufo, which became a concentration and extermination camp.

Funded only by private donations, in 2011 and 2012 the two associations carried out soundings and excavations at El Marrufo, found seven of the mass graves, containing 28 bodies, and exhumed them. They also rebuilt the cemetery at La Sauceda and that is where those victims now lie at rest. Full information is given in the other part of the permanent exhibition at the Casa de la Memoria.

Since opening on 18 November 2016, the Casa has received numerous valuable donations of books and archive materials and now receives a little support from the Cadiz provincial government and the Junta de Andalucía. A historian and archivists have now created a major research facility which is of tremendous use to students, historians, writers and others with an interest in the Spanish Civil War, and the Casa produces a magazine, 'Cuatro Esquinas', in Spanish and English, with cooperation from the Gibraltar government.

"The way the Casa has evolved in these three years has been totally unexpected, in terms of general visitors, school visits, tours in English, the annual seminars as part of the University of Cadiz summer courses in San Roque, the archive and of course the library, which now has over 4,000 books. It is classified as a specialist document centre and library as part of the Junta de Andalucía's Red IDEA, and contains books and documents which don't exist anywhere else, not even in the National Library. We also raise awareness of Historical Memory and continue to call for truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of Francoism, and offer a service to help people try to find out what happened to relatives who disappeared in the civil war. The Casa de la Memoria is unique in Spain," said Andrés Rebolledo Barreno, the president of the two associations.

Last Friday, to commemorate the third anniversary, several presentations were made, including to Jesús Román, the archaeologist who led the exhumations at El Marrufo and in other places in Andalucía.