The ghostly sounds (EVP) you have just been hearing are the supposed spirits that still wander though the ruins of the former site of Belchite – Belchite Viejo - in Zaragoza, truth be told, they have a sad story to tell.
It is the 24th of August 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. The Republican Army, led by General Pozas, launches an offensive against Belchite in order to establish a base from which to mount its decisive attack on the city of Zaragoza, located just 48 kms away. From the church of San Juan, known locally as the Torre del Reloj (clocktower) 12 strikes of the bell are heard as 12 shots are simultaneously fired on the people of Belchite.
It was to be the start of two weeks of persistent bombing, face-to-face combat and general folly of the like which can be witnessed in any war. Surprisingly, whether out of conviction or obligation, the revolting troops and 2,200 Belchite residents caught up alongside them offered greater resistance than expected. In addition to this was the fighting between Republican aircraft and rebel fighter planes, which helped contribute to the total destruction of Belchite.
It is the 6th September. Nothing remains but a devastated town with 6,000 dead bodies scattered along its streets. Soldiers from both sides intermingled with civilians create a silent but bloody spectacle. The weather is hot and the smell of death lingers in the air.
Just over two years later, the Civil War ended and general Franco offered the survivors of Belchite a choice: to reconstruct the town on its existing site, or build a brand new Belchite alongside the ruins. The residents chose the second option and thanks to this impressive if terrible memorial, today we can gain an insight into Spain's recent and wartorn past, which should serve as a crude reminder of our long-held desire for peace.
Though fenced off some years ago in order to protect them from vandals and because from time to time the ruins still collapse, it is still possible to visit the spooky remains of Belchite Viejo thanks to guided tours run by local residents and descendents of those who experienced the events firsthand. It is worth taking a walk down the ruined streets and imagining them full of the hustle and bustle of any town... and then,.. the devastation.. fighter planes, machine guns, screaming...
By the way, be sure to look out for the unexploded shell which remains embedded in the bell tower of the San Agustín church.
And did you know there are still those who say that the spirits of those who died during this episode of the Civil War still haunt the area. Or perhaps they are the ghosts of Amilcar Barca and his soldiers, who died while suppressing another rebellion many centuries earlier when Belchite was known as “Belia”?