A wonderful place to pause for a moment, enjoy the view and remember the fate of hundreds of thousands of people – it should never be forgotten.Älgbert Elgson
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At the highest point of the coastal road that leads from Portbou in Spain to Cerbère in France and at the same time the border crossing of these countries is the monument Monument a l’Exili Republicà Espanyol. Display boards with photographs commemorate the exile of the Spanish Republicans in 1939 and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
The trail of history
After Francisco Franco ruled dictatorially after his military coup that sparked the Spanish civil war, he suppressed aspirations for autonomy in various regions of Spain and for this purpose executed hundreds of thousands of people or interned them in concentration camps. Catalonia was also soon occupied and almost 500,000 people fled for fear of a massacre. Despite the wintry conditions and constant air raids, many of the persecuted chose the route over the pass to France, where there were dramatic scenes because the border crossing was closed and the Spaniards were initially denied access to the border. Countless people gathered in front of the national border and hoped to get in. On January 28, 1939, the French government finally opened the border to civilians and a few days later to republican soldiers.
The civilians were eventually housed in beach camps near the villages on the Mediterranean. France was overwhelmed by the number of refugees and only gradually was enough material available to build barracks in the camps. The sanitary conditions were also devastating and thousands of people died from illness in the first six months. Members of the Republican armed forces, on the other hand, were classified as dangerous and, as a precaution, were placed in internment camps. After a while, many of them were deported to the concentration camps of the German Reich, where most of them perished.
The memorial „Monument a l’Exili Republicà Espanyol“ now commemorates the expulsion (= Retirada) at that time. You can find out more about the history and fate of the people after an hour’s drive in the MUME (Museu Memorial de l’Exili) in the Spanish border town of La Jonquera.
The Coll dels Belitres is a mountain pass in the eastern Pyrenees and connects the south of the French Occitania with the northern Catalonia of Spain. Regardless of which country you are traveling from – the drive is beautiful and the panoramic view is simply breathtaking.
The monument „Monument a l’Exili Republicà Espanyol“ is located right on the border. On display are display boards with photographs, taken by the French-Colombian artist Manuel Moros, which still recall the scenes from that time. The photos are snapshots between February 5 and 10, 1939 and show helpless children, exhausted men and women, and defeated soldiers who have to leave their homeland and seek refuge in France. The number of refugees at this border crossing alone is around 100,000. However, it wasn’t the only one where such dramatic scenes took place.
How to get there?
The Monument a l’Exili Republicà Espanyol is located at the Coll dels Belitres border crossing. Parking spaces are not available directly, but it is possible to park for a short time along the street.
Many tourists like to cross this border crossing due to the view of the Mediterranean Sea and the many small villages along the coastal road. However, few take the time to get to know the history of this place. It is unimaginable how many people were expelled from their homeland at the time and what dramatic scenes took place in this place. If you are in the area, you should definitely deal with the fate of these refugees, because this is also part of this place – not just the beautiful view. It is sad that many passers-by carelessly or obviously willfully soiled the monument.
Hold on to your headgear – it can be very windy even when the weather is nice.