Saturday 20 September 2014

Visiting El Alto del León: The Republican Fortifications

This a long due post from a second visit in August to El Alto del León, this time to see the Republican lines  (see here the post commenting the first visit to the Nationalists line in the same area). In the opening photo of this post you can see the communist symbol (hammer and sickle) followed by the incription "1937" that we found carved in stone next to a major resting area of the Republican line located at Peña del Cuervo.

The map above shows the the battle-front lines, the Nationalists in blue and the Republicans in red; the black ellipse covers the focus of our visit. The map and many more interesting materials can be found in Domingo Pliego's blog, a veteran mountain trekker who has explored in detailed all the Guadarrama area.

The area line had three main interesting visits: (1) A line of outer posts overlooking the no man's land before the Nationalists fortifications at the Sevillana peak; (2) a very large building surrounded by a line of bunkers (probably a command post, according to Domingo Pliego's research); and (3) finally, an extensive area covered with buildings that clearly was the resting area of the forces manning the front line positions.   

Just last weekend I had the opportunity to vist again the same positions. I have picked the best photos of both visits; unfortunately last week the weather deteriorated during the day and the light was dimmer than in the first visit;  and for that reason you´ll find differences in the  colur tones and brightness of the photos showed here.

Outer posts
The outer posts are small fortified positions to be found uphill climbing to the peak of Cerro de Matalafuente. They were probably manned by a couple of men, covering the no-man's land area and overlooking the main Nationalists poisitions at La Sevillana

Our first objective: Cerro de Matlafuente

Climbing to the top under a July sun
Fortification on the top of Matalafuente in very bad state

The Command Post Area
The Command Post is a very large building with three entry doors, a few rooms separated by walls and the remnants of a fireplace protected from the line of sight of the enemy by a large rock in the direction to the Nationalists line.

It is not clear or documented whether this is a command post, but the size of the construction surrounded by different defensive structures (walls, bunkers...) suggest that it was an important position.


The following photos show some of the bunkers in the sorroundings of the main building. Note how the engineers used the natural features, and specially the rocky formations dotting the area.
Bunker 1

Bunker 1

Bunker 2

Bunker 2
Spot Bunker 1!
Entry to fortified position carved in a rock
View from inside (Command Post on the back-end)

A long stone wall was constructed with loopholes for firing following the line occupied by the Republican forces.

Stone wall line crosses a peak...
...and emerges again climbing the slope of this hill
The buildings in the resting area
In the slope of Peña del Cuervo overlooking Madrid, you find a small village made of carefully built stone consructions which probably were the rearguard services site (kitchen, hospital, strores...)  and the  resting and shletering area for the units coming from the front line.

And the (dangerous!) descend back home...

The quality of the construction of these fortifications of the Republican side are pretty poor compared to those on the Nationalists line. They seem to have been constructed piling stones and there's very little evidence of cement. 

This can be explained because these positions were far from the supply depots (likely located in Cercedilla or Los Molinos) and were also difficult to reach due to the lack of roads and the harsh topography.   

The state of conservation is deplorable despite being out of reach of the main touristical tracks, probably as a result of the poor construction. The rearguard area is an amazing site, with beautiful views into the valleys and the flat terrain leading to Madrid.


Once again I must regret and loudly denounce the lack of interest shown by the regional and national authorities responsible for taking care of the historical Spanish heritage. Unfortunately the Spanish Civil War continue raising sensitivities in the country (despite having passed 78 years already). The "pact of oblivion" tacitly agreed by the main political forces in the Transition period after 1975, seems to be an insurmountable barrier to extend a blanket of legal protection to the Guadarrama battlefields 


  1. Really enjoy your battlefield archaeology walks. Great stuff!

  2. Great report; thank you a lot. Sadly, we are losing these unique pieces of our History because, as you say, there is no interest in this country for the rich Spanish heritage.

  3. Benito, that's an amazing post! Those are incredible photos. It's sad, and astonishing, that the bunkers and fortification lines are not preserved in some way. In future years, people will be amazed that something wasn't done to preserve that heritage. It's a painful heritage, but all countries go through times like that and its part of our duty as citizens to remember and commemorate that. Great work, and thank you so much for sharing this with us all.

  4. What a fantastic post. I am now inspired so it is probably a good job that I a 5000 miles from my hobby tools. One mountain per year is plenty enough

  5. Excellent post thanks for sharing your trip. Plenty to inspire us!

  6. Thanks for these reports. These are very useful to me wargaming SCW way over here in the US!

  7. Thank you for another great post on this subject, Benito. I agree with SR and others that it is a great pity this past is not better preserved - it's hard for example to imagine our American friends being so uncaring of Civil War sites.
    As I looked at these photos, I had two recurring thoughts.
    1) What a beautiful country you live in.
    2) How difficult it must have been to carry supplies (including ammo and water!) up to those isolated positions. I am sure that pack animals were in great demand for that purpose.