On April 26, 1937, the small Basque town of Guernica was bombed, obliterating around 7o% of its buildings and killing almost a third of its population. This year, 2017, marks the 80th anniversary of this tragic event, and many places across Spain will be commemorating it over the coming months.
The town of Guernica, known as Gernika in Basque, is now joined with the neighbouring town of Lumo and is called Gernika-Lumo. It lies approximately 36 kilometres east of the city of Bilbao.
On that fateful day in 1937, it was a Monday and a market day in town. Spain was in the midst of civil war, and Hitler and the Nazis had leant their support to Franco in the form of military aid, weapons and fighter planes.
In the afternoon of that day, dozens of Luftwaffe planes appeared in the sky, accompanied by fighter planes with machine guns, and proceeded to bomb the small town over the next three hours. By the time it was over, around 70% of the town had been completely destroyed and around a third of its residents were dead.
Guernica was not a big town, nor was it a strategic military target; it is believed that the attack was both an experiment by the Nazis and Franco’s attempt to wipe out the Basque resistance to the Nationalist forces.
Guernica and Picasso
The celebrated Spanish artist Pablo Picasso immortalised the events of that day in his famous painting, named after the town. Completed in June 1937, just two months after the event, it depicts the town in turmoil – people are screaming or lying dead in the street, and in the middle of it all stands a horse and bull. Picasso once said that the horse represents the people of Guernica, while the bull represents brutality and darkness. Since then, the painting has become somewhat of an anti-war symbol and an emblem of peace.
80th anniversary events
There will be many events held across Spain to commemorate the events of this day. The Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid, where Picasso’s painting is housed, will be putting on a special exhibition entitled Pity and Terror: Picasso’s Path to Guernica, from April 5 to September 4, 2017. With Guernica as its centrepiece, it will bring together 150 of Picasso’s works from all over Spain and the rest of the world.
The town of Guernica will also be hosting commemorative events and exhibits in both its museums – the Euskal Herria Museum and the Peace Museum. The first details the history of the Basque people and its culture, and the second showcases information about the bombing, as well as peace efforts throughout history and around the world.