The remains of late dictator General Franco were moved on Thursday from the Valle de Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum and memorial to the Spanish Civil War and placed in a simpler, family tomb in a small public cemetery outside Madrid.
In a highly symbolic moment for many Spaniards, the acting government, controlled by the PSOE Socialist party, carried out its promise to have the coffin removed from where it was placed on Francisco Franco's death in 1975 ahead of the eventual restoration of democracy.
Despite efforts by Franco's family and supporters to block the reburial, the Supreme Court recently found in favour of the government and allowed it to go ahead.
Family members, including grandchildren of Franco, were driven into the Valle de Los Caídos site just before 10am on Thursday morning, with some 500 accredited journalists watching. Two members were allowed to go into the huge underground basilica, carved out of solid rock by prisoners in the post-Civil War era, where, along with acting minister of Justice Dolores Delgado, they witnessed the 1.5-tonne granite slab covering the tomb under the central dome being removed. The company employed to lift the stone had been subject to abuse by far-right groups in the days leading up to the removal.
Just before 1pm, the remains were carried out through the large doors into daylight to a waiting hearse that drove to a nearby helicopter. From here, the coffin, draped in a cloth to cover up ageing, was flown to the Mingorrubio-El Pardo cemetery, west of central Madrid.
Here noisy demonstrators gathered sporting Franco-era images as the private reburial ceremony was held in a chapel where the late dictator's wife, Carmen Polo, is buried. The family had wanted to rebury General Franco in Madrid's cathedral, where the family has part of the crypt, but this request had been turned down.
A controversial monument
The original burial place in Valle de los Caídos had been a source of controversy in Spain. The site, in the mountains west of Madrid, was chosen by Franco for a huge memorial to his winning side in the 1936-9 civil war. Some 33,000 bodies of those killed in the conflict were moved there. Victims' remains from the winning Nationalist side were largely taken there with families' permission but the bones of Republican victims were added without authorisation.
The government had justified its long-running legal moves to change the burial site of Franco as complying with 2007 Historical Memory law (Ley de la Memoria Histórica). This legislation aimed to remove the final images and symbols of the dictatorship. Under the law, the Valle de los Caídos monument is only to be used to bury victims of the war. Franco had died a natural death in 1975. The acting government, if reelected, wants to turn the valley into a neutral place to remember the conflict and promote democracy, exhuming all the remaining bodies.
Acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, speaking after Thursday morning's events, said, "We pay tribute to all past generations" by removing this "anomaly" from Spain's democracy. He reminded critics that the reburial had the support of the government, parliament and the courts.