We wanted to draw a line and connect two points in the terrible fresco of the Guerra Civil. On the battlefield there were two opposing ideals, two ideologies, two visions of the world. The devastating and monolithic character of totalitarianism was facing the complex and convulsive feel of a political force where Marxist dogmatics, utopian libertarians, moderate liberals and socialists were clashing and fighting together, pursuing the dream of freedom.
Hours of pedaling, paying tribute to a slaughter that was not only fratricide, but one that also represented the prelude to World War II. Pushing our bikes along the trail that connects two towns razed and devastated by Republican and Francoist, respectively. The ruins of the village remain as a monument of the Battle of Belchite: the town was devastated by the ferocious onslaught of the republican army and the International Brigades.
We were not just cycling through space, but also across time.
We are in Belchite. It was 1937. In the last days of August, Republicans set out to stop the advance of Franco’s forces. The General had taken Zaragoza and his troops were now entrenched in this town, where almost four thousand souls were living. In the offensive about five thousand people were killed between the two sides. It lasted 14 days. After the war, General Franco raised a new Belchite elsewhere and kept the ruins of the original town as a timeless reminder of Republican cruelty. However, the Caudillo of Spain continued to practice a true extermination of the political enemy, whom he buried in more than two thousand mass graves.
In the old town of Belchite we still feel
a strange energy, an icy silence.
We leave the city. The countryside around embraces us. The aridity all around metaphorically reminds us of the reality of this territory, the loss of population and the low density. This land’s magnificent breadth would make for the paradise of every triathlete who loves desert spaces and endless routes across nowhere. As the north wind blows, there is no shelter. In this land, pedaling turns inevitably rhythmic: it follows the beat of monotony, broken only by the richness of its different shades of ochres passing by.
The road is disproportionately wide. I try to observe new details that help me make sense of my passing by. There is an abandoned house slowly being devoured by the land. The landscape seems petrified, nothing happens. A space without a space. We need to move away from the wideness of this road, which would maybe help get rid of this dazed indolence and slow laziness. In the gentle waves of the land I recognise the attempt of orography to timidly express itself, in a way that is not affecting our riding.
Photography. Facu Aguirre
Words. Eliseu T. Climent
Artwork. Pol Montserrat
The story was originally published in Spanish with the title “Entre dos frentes”
by our friends at VOLATA (#6 January 2016).