Off the tourist trail, in the northern barrio of Madrid, sits a bust of one Pablo Iglesias Posse.
Founder of both the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the General Workers Union, Posse is an extremely important and respected figure in modern Spanish history, yet he remains largely unknown to the younger generation. It is the kind of monument that is all too easy to walk past without giving it a second thought. That would be a mistake.
The bust is in fact a reproduction which was unveiled in 2001 to a mixed reception from the somewhat conservative Madrilenos. While the reproduction is nothing special to the look at the back story of the original is certainly worth telling.
Designed and built by the sculptor Emiliano Barral, the original was intended as a powerful symbol of the left in a time of great political and social upheaval across Spain. First put on show in 1936 in Parque de Oeste a few months after the Spanish Civil War broke out, the unveiling ceremony was awash in revolutionary fanfare. Emotional speeches, rousing hymns, and a sea of red flags surrounded the monument.
As the Spanish Civil War spread across the country Madrid found itself being torn apart. Deeply rooted ideologies split families, towns and cities in a fight for control over Spain. Fighting soon began between the Republican and Nationalist troops and Parque de Oeste, and site of the bust, was the site of numerous skirmishes. Posse’s massive face became pockmarked by stray bullets and shrapnel explosions.
After three years of fighting, the Civil War was coming to an end, with Madrid in the hands of the dictator Franco. Eager to erase any monuments of the opposition, Nationalist troops gathered leftover dynamite and attempted to blow the bust apart. They failed. After numerous failed attempts they decided to do it by hand. The 1.5 ton bust was dragged to the nearby Parque del Retiro to be broken up by stonemasons and used as bricks in a stone wall.
The story would have ended here, one more monument turned to dust by war, were it not for the actions of José Pradal, a local and draftsman for the City of Madrid. Upon seeing workers about to begin breaking up the head, and recognising the bust for what it was, he swiftly ran over and convinced the workers that Posse’s head would be useless as a building material. The workers moved on to another project.
That night Pradal returned with two friends. Under the cover of darkness they hauled the bust to one of the gardens in the park. They dug a shallow pit and buried the bust. Marking the location on a map, they promised each other they would return at a later date to recover the buried head.
Pradal kept the map in his house for 17 years. However in fascist Spain even just having the map to the buried bust of a socialist leader posed a danger. In 1957, gave the map to his brother Gabriel who was living in exile in France. On his deathbed Gabriel then entrusted the map to his children Mercedes and Carlos. It wasn’t until 1979, 40 years after the burial, that the Pradal family contacted Alfonso Guerra, then Deputy Secretary of the recently reformed PSOE, about the location of the bust.
In February of that year the bust was recovered. Despite 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 meaningful symbolic and historical significance.
In 2001 the Pablo Iglesias Foundation decided to commission a reproduction of the same bust and place it on the streets of Madrid. Made by the sculptor Pepe Noja, it was 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 politics surrounding it are still very present. The replica is the site of protests, vandalism and graffiti. So far no one has tried to blow it up.
Adapted with Permission from Andy of Go Apocalypse.