Ghosts of Spain


About 100 miles east of Madrid lies the town of Poyales del Hoyo, which serves as the backdrop for the gruesome acts of the Franco era Spanish Civil War as described by Giles Tremlett in his fascinating book Ghosts of Spain.

On a cold and rainy night in December 1936, a small truck pulled into the muddy rain-washed plaza in town with a macabre motive – to behead three women, convicted of fictitious crimes such as being able to read, or being a Protestant. The person in charge, Ángel Vadillo, would be later known as Quinientos Uno – or 501 – as he would have killed 501 rojos by the end of the war a few years later.

One of the women’s daughter, then 14 years old, recounts the stormy night in Tremlett’s book –

“We were already in bed .. Suddenly they were beating at the door. There must have been a dozen of them … armed with rifles and pistols. … My mother gave me a hug, and that was the last I saw of her. I ran back through the rain and shut myself into the house.”

The women were pushed in the back of the truck with the men who would kill them. The truck snaked past olive groves and orchards of cherry trees and figs, and past the looming peak of Almanazor, named after the 10th century Muslim prime minister of Cordoba. The truck stopped in an asparagus field amidst the dark pouring rain. One of the women was pregnant. Her skull was smashed and her belly ripped open by a knife. The other two were shot in the head.


While visiting the muddy and eerily quiet Plaza del Coso (pictured in this blog) in Penafiel, about 120 miles north of Poyales del Hoyo on a cold late December afternoon, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to that dark and stormy December night described in Ghosts of Spain. Not a single soul was visible for the hour that we strolled around the dead plaza, and the only sounds we heard were of the thunder rolling in from time to time from across the Penafiel Castle to the north, and the balanced cacophony of some birds perched on the olive trees surrounding the town. Its as if the truck had just rolled out of the square, leaving the town frozen.

Posted in featured, spain, traveling.