Underground shelters in Torrevieja

It’s not commonly known but below the streets of Torrevieja there are five anti-aircraft shelters that were constructed during the civil war. One of them is under the Plaza de la Constitución opposite the Inmaculada church and has the capacity of holding up to 600 people.

Under the square in the centre of Torrevieja there is a shelter of about 20 metres long. The access to it is on calle Caballero de Rodas and it is one of five defensive infrastructures created during the Civil War. The shelters were constructed after the first bombing by Franco’s troops on the coast of Alicante in November 1936.

According to official sources, the shelter’s structure was not destroyed during the civil war and was conserved in a good state beneath the banks and palms of La Glorieta. Opening up the history of the civil war is something that Torrevieja is considering doing as part of its tourism initiative with Cartagena.

After the bombing of 1936 the governor of Alicante, Francisco Valdés Casas increased the installation of anti-aircraft defences and the construction of shelters for the population throughout the province. In addition, more weapons and telephone facilities were purchased so that there was a network of surveillance posts along the coast. It was expected that there would be a landing at some point between Benidorm and Torrevieja.

Following the attacks on the 28th and 29th November in 1936 the defence work was accelerated and trenches were built on ‘Ferrís’ and ‘La Mosca’. Information about the anti-aircraft shelters is located in the municipal archive and the plans for the shelters can be seen along with details such as the height and access points. Alongside these public shelters, many people build their own private shelters too. These were often below the ground floor of private houses.

Work on the public shelters was begun after the summer of 1937. A lookout was also positioned permanently on the outskirts of the town and from this observation point information could be transmitted about approaching aircraft. The original warning bell was later replaced by a siren from the salt factory as a better method of alerting the town’s people.

It is hard to imagine now that our holiday town ofTorrevieja was once a republican stronghold under attack from Franco’s armies. Alicante was the last retreat for republicans before defeat on March 28th1939. Rather than be arrested by Franco’s troops some of those who couldn’t escape on overloaded ships leaving Alicante port, chose to take their own lives.

It is estimated that there were 14,000 republicans trapped in Alicante port and Franco would not let them leave. The British Government refused to assist in evacuating those left to certain death or incarceration in one of the many concentration camps constructed by Franco. The full story and awareness of the depth of atrocities of the civil war in Spain remains uncovered.

Suzanne O’Connell