Tuesday, April 16, 2024


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Searching for the lost sculptures of Francisco Franco


“Searching for the lost sculptures of Francisco Franco”

Expelled from communal areas, the overthrown leader’s rejected statues are now strewn throughout government structures in Spain.

Photos by Julia Schulz-Dornburg

This article is part of POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab: Living Cities, a collaborative journalism project exploring the future of cities. Sign up here.

Julia Schulz-Dornburg’s fascination with Spain’s vanishing monuments was sparked when she curated an exhibition in Barcelona featuring a beheaded stone sculpture of former dictator Francisco Franco.

Despite its headless state, the statue still received immediate backlash and was targeted by numerous individuals who threw eggs and tomatoes at it, vandalized it with leftist symbols, and covered it in flags representing Catalan separatism. Despite the presence of guards, the dictator’s statue was toppled by protesters within a matter of days.

After witnessing the strong response, German architect Schulz-Dornburg began to question the whereabouts of the numerous Franco statues that used to be present in the squares of almost every Spanish town and city. This was in response to a 2007 law prohibiting symbols that glorified his authoritarian regime.

Schulz-Dornburg embarked on a search that spanned the entire country, visiting military bases, city storage facilities, and even a 17th-century boathouse located in the gardens of a royal palace. These monuments had been removed and stored by officials who were unsure of how to handle them.

She faced challenges in her search to photograph the lasting impact of Franco’s rule in Spain due to the country’s complex bureaucracy. Despite officials repeatedly avoiding her requests, she persisted in capturing what she calls the “difficult weight” of Franco’s legacy. She shared that the project almost failed due to numerous obstacles created by officials who claimed to be unavailable for various reasons such as being on leave, in training, sick, or absent.

The architect stated that she believed Spain’s official attitude was not driven by shame, but rather by the country’s complex connection to Franco’s legacy and its failure to fully confront this dark period in its past. She added, “Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy was achieved peacefully, but at a cost: No investigations were conducted into war crimes and no punishments were served.”

Schulz-Dornburg, the author of “Where is Franco? Chronicle of a Journey” which details her quest to find the lost statues, has provided some of her photographs to POLITICO.