Fran & I had originally planned to visit Zaragosa when we left Arguedas, but after visiting the Caves at Arguedas and Bardenas Reales, we decided to head forty kilometres southeast of the city of Zaragoza and visit a place that I had only discovered a week prior to heading to Spain.
The town of Belchite is split in two, between the new town and what looks like a ghost town. The old part of Belchite was destroyed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War fought between the Republicans, who were loyal to the democratic, left-leaning Second Spanish Republic, and the Nationalists, a fascist group led by General Francisco Franco.
Aa a small town, lacking any military interest, Belchite suddenly found itself thrust towards the frontlines when the Republican launched an offensive against the Nationalists forces in the Aragon region of Spain where they held several villages and towns that were known to be weakly defended. Advancing through these weak points in the Nationalists’ frontline, the Republicans planned to take Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, which was only a few kilometres behind enemy lines. While the Republicans did make good advance in the region, Belchite itself was fiercely defended by the Nationalists. The town eventually fell after two weeks of intense fighting, and by then Belchite was almost totally destroyed. At least 5,000 people, including civilians, died.
After the Civil War was over, Spain’s new ruler Francisco Franco ordered the ruins of Belchite to be left untouched as a living monument of the war. Today, visitors can walk amongst the bullet-ridden, mortar shattered buildings and visit the hollowed-out village church. The holes and caves in Lobo Hill south of Belchite from where the Spanish Republican artillery positions fired towards the old town are also preserved.
In recent years, the old part of Belchite has become popular as a movie set, for Spanish, British and American crews. The 1988 movie The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and the 2006 Spanish movie Pan’s Labyrinth was shot here.
The old town is now fenced off and to see it you have to pay for a guided tour. As you cannot pay to enter at the old town at the entrance, you have to purchase tickets from the tourist office in new town of Belchite. Although the tour guide is in Spanish, you are provided with an MP3 type device and headphones which is in English. Unfortunately, you have to stay with the tour guide and the twenty-five other people walking around the old town of Belchite, probably for safety reasons. However, we decided to stay at the back of the group lagging behind so that we could take some images without tourists in them. I rarely like being guided, but to be fair, as there are only 3 guided tours a day, it was not as bad as I had envisaged. Each tour lasts about one and a half hours and you are allowed in to both of the churches, but none of the other buildings due to safety reasons, its surprising that the town is still standing.
for more information about the Old town of Belchite and the area of Argon here is a link to the Argon Turismo Website: https://www.turismodearagon.com/en/ficha/belchite/