San Rafael cemetery can be found on the western edges of Malaga, almost as far west as the airport. It is no longer in use and is locked. A high wall of concrete, stone, metal and brick surrounds it. Large blocks of flats overlook it but it mostly butts onto light industrial workshops and large shops. Right behind it are some houses where people still live. Most remains of graves have been removed apart from an area close to the pits where flats overlook. It is mostly a wasteland of mud, scrub and some cypress trees. The cemetery is now a site recently excavated under ‘Historical Memory’ laws within Spain introduced by the recent Labour government who have wrestled with the legacy of Franco and have tried, against much opposition from the church and the Right, to reconcile some of the many wrongs which happened under Franco.
In the cemetery, the only evidence of recent organised activity is a series of plaques within detailing the ‘fosas’ or pits where excavations have occurred and where skeletons were uncovered.
Around 4,500 people were executed in San Rafael cemetery by Franco forces in the period 1936 to 1957, some of them removed to other burial sites. The ages of the victims were generally between 20 years and 40 years, although the remains of around 400 children have also been found, mostly sons of Republicans.
In February 2011 I visited Malaga and Granada to document specifically Civil War atrocity sites, of which San Rafael was one. I gained entry through a small hole in the wall at the side of the cemetery and began walking across the inner landscape. I was aware of potentially being watched from the high rise flats surrounding the cemetery or from any security patrols which might have occurred and was preparing my explanations to the police should I have been caught. After an hour of exploration I found the area where the ‘fosas’ or pits were located and stayed for a few minutes before making my way back to the hole I had scrambled through earlier.
The initial photographs document the exterior walls of the cemetery and the later photographs are from inside, the last two photographs depicting the scenes of excavation and exhumation several years before.
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