A little off the tourist trail in the northern barrio of Madrid lies a reproduction of a bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse. Founder of both the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the General Workers Union, he is to some one of the most important and respected figures in modern Spanish history but relatively unknown to the younger generation. The reproduction bust was unveiled in 2001 to a mixed reception from the nominally conservative Madrilenos. While the reproduction is nothing special to the look at, the back story of the original is a story certainly worth telling.
The original bust was designed and built by the sculptor Emiliano Barral. It was intended as powerful symbol of the left in what was a time of great social and political upheaval across Spain and much of Europe. The monument was first put on show in 1936 in Parque de Oeste a few months after the Spanish Civil War broke out. The day of the unveiling ceremony was awash in revolutionary fanfare. A sea of red flags, emotional and lofty speeches, and rousing hymns.
As the fighting in the Civil War spread across much of the country, Madrid was torn between the competing sides and the deep rooted ideologies. Families, towns and cities split by their personal feuds in a fight for ultimate control of Spain. Madrid was initially on the side of the Republicans and fighting soon began between the Republican and Nationalist troops. Parque de Oeste was the site of many skirmishes and the monument endured a great number of stray bullets and shrapnel explosions.
After 3 years of fighting with the Civil War coming to an end and Madrid in the hands of Franco, the victorious Nationalist troops attempted to blow up the bust with some left over dynamite. After numerous failed attempts the 1.5 ton bust wad instead transported to the nearby Parque del Retiro to be broken up by stonemasons and used as building material for a stone wall that was to be constructed in the area.
This probably would have been the end of the story were it not for the actions of a local Spaniard named José Pradal, a draftsman for the City of Madrid. Arriving at work inside Parque del Retiro Pradal approached a group of workers who were about to begin breaking up the head. Recognizing the bust for what it was, he was able to convince the workers that the stone from the bust would be useless as building material. They gave up on the task and moved on to another project.
Sculptor Emiliano Barral with the bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse
Later that night Pradal returned with two friends and under the cover of darkness they were able to move the bust to one of the gardens in the park. Together they quickly dug a shallow pit and buried the bust. They took note of the exact location on a map and promised each other to return at a later date to recover the buried head.
Pradal kept the map in his house for 17 years but in 1957, aware of the potential danger posed by keeping it in his possession, he travelled to Toulouse and deposited the map with his brother Gabriel who was at the time living in exile in France. On his deathbed Gabriel then entrusted the map to his children Mercedes and Carlos. And so it wasn't until 1979, 40 years after the burial, that the Pradal family felt safe to contact someone outside of the family and give them their information. They chose Alfonso Guerra, then Deputy Secretary of the recently reformed PSOE.
In February of the same year the bust was recovered by a group of workers. Despite some serious damage to the face, in particular the nose, what remained of the bust was placed in the entrance to the PSOE party headquarters on Calle Ferraz and can still be seen today. Many artists and sculptors offered to restore the bust to its original form. However, it was felt that the damage held strong symbolic and historical significance.
It was much later in 2001 that the Pablo Iglesias Foundation decided to commission a reproduction of the same bust and place it on the streets of Madrid. The copy of the original bust was made by the sculptor Pepe Noja and placed on large granite block on the Avenida Pablo Iglesias in Chamberi. Even now, 80 years after the death of Pablo Iglesias Posse and 40 years after the death of Franco, the replica bust is a site for protest, vandalism and graffiti.
The bust at PSOE party headquarters
Inauguration of the monument to Pablo Iglesias in 1936
About the author: Andy from Marxgetsetgo has been on the road, on-and-off, for the better part of a decade. He enjoys travelling and as the years have passed he has consciously tried to explore more culturally significant and thought provoking locations. With this philosophy in mind, he writes about destinations that are a little different. Destinations that intrigue and interest.
Subscribe to our Newsletter and get articles like this delivered straight to your inbox