The tragic beauty of La Sauceda

Every year thousands of people visit the valley of La Sauceda, an enclave in the north of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga which stretches across the municipalities of Jerez, Cortes, Alcalá de los Gazules and Jimena. The lovely woodlands and mountain scenery attract walkers, tourists, nature lovers and people of all ages, who appreciate its environmental value. However, few visitors are aware that it has a tragic history.

Nestling in a triangle of mountains in the north of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga, where the municipalities of Jerez, Cortes de la Frontera, Alcalá de los Gazules and Jimena converge, since ancient times La Sauceda has been a community of huts and houses beneath the mantle of woodlands that cover this region. There has been a recreation area here, at kilometre 24.5 on the CA-8201 from Jimena to Puerto Galis, since the 1980s; it attracts numerous tourists, walkers and nature lovers who are instantly seduced by the beauty of the place on their first visit.

Read more

A well-organised community of workers

Numerous houses and huts were built under the mantle of oak trees in La Sauceda valley during the Second Republic. A church, a communal oven, several shops and a school were used by the occupants of the central area, where there are now houses for tourists and visitors to stay in.

But other parts of the valley were inhabited as well, divided into administrative districts called ‘cantones’. About 2,000 people lived there, and they worked on cattle farms, collected charcoal or cork, or were involved in contraband with products from Gibraltar.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, there were 11 inhabited areas in La Sauceda valley as well as the one we know today which is close to the church and beside the stream.


Read more

Bombardments, looting and death

La Sauceda was the last place in Cádiz province to remain loyal to the government which had been democratically elected by the Spanish people. From all over the province, anarchists, republicans, socialists and others who feared for their lives, and who wanted to resist the Francoist advance, fled there. Others headed through the mountains towards Málaga.

On 31st October 1936, the valley was bombarded by four Francoist planes and besieged on land by rebel army columns who approached from four different directions. The hamlet was destroyed and the inhabitants who were unable to escape, including women and children, were arrested and taken to the nearby estate of El Marrufo. Franco’s troops killed about 50 people on that day, and looted the houses and huts before setting fire to them.



Read more

El Marrufo, a 800 hectare estate

El Marrufo is a farm estate with 800 hectares of pasture, agricultural land and woodland in La Sauceda valley, within the municipality of Jerez. In 1936 it belonged to the Guerrero family from Jerez, who owned many other properties in Cádiz province. In total they had 32 properties and a total of 6,140 hectares of land. El Marrufo had a small chapel, an enormous mansion and several outbuildings which were used as stables and storage.The Cortijo del Marrufo is situated to the far east of La Sauceda valley. It is in the municipality of Jerez, as this passed into Castilian hands in the 13th century.

For centuries the mountains of Marrufo were worked by individuals who rented or held the concession for the land; they paid a fee to the municipality in exchange for making use of the resources produced by its oak woods, acorns and pastures.

Read more

Agrarian reform for the valley

The Republican government included the Cortijo del Marrufo in the catalogue of estates to which it wanted to apply agrarian reform. There was not enough time to do so. After the uprising of the military insurrectionists against the Republic, the workers took over the 800 hectares of land and started to work them as communal property. They also set up the Committee in Defence of El Marrufo to stop the advance of the fascists.The Marrufo estate was included in 1933 in the Register of Property Suitable for Expropriation; the register was drawn up by order of the Ministry of Agriculture and it referred to land to which the Law of Agrarian Reform could be applied.

That law had been approved by the Constituent Assemblies of the Second Republic of Spain on 9th September 1932. Agrarian reform was one of the Republic’s most ambitious projects and was something which tens of thousands of labourers without land of their own in Cádiz province and the whole of Andalucía had been wanting for a long time, as a way of improving their lives.

Read more

The farmhouse becomes a concentration camp

On 31st October 1936, the Francoist troops who occupied La Sauceda valley defeated the labourers and militia who resisted them at El Marrufo. They set up their headquarters there, locked the survivors of the bombardment of La Sauceda in the storerooms and demanded that everyone who lived in the area present themselves to the new authorities.

El Marrufo then became a detention centre, a place of torture and shootings where the rebels put into practice their plan to exterminate those who were ‘disloyal’ to the new regime. Franco’s troops assassinated between 300 and 600 people at La Sauceda and El Marrufo between November 1936 and March 1937.

On 31st October 1936, the workers at El Marrufo faced up to the rebel army which had come from Ubrique to La Sauceda and participated in the combined action of the planes and the three other columns who had arrived from Jerez, Alcalá and Jimena.



Read more

Our history is starting to come to light

"Your father was killed at La Sauceda. Your grandmother was shot at El Marrufo".
For decades, that was all that the children and grandchildren of the former inhabitants of La Sauceda valley heard, in their homes all over Spain. But nobody knew exactly where or how they had died, let alone where they were buried.
Seventy-five years after the bombardment of La Sauceda and the crimes at El Marrufo, a group of children and grandchildren of people who were killed there started to shed a little light on the history of their relatives. In August 2011 a team of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and students, coordinated by the Foropor la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar (Forum for the Memory of the Campo de Gibraltar) carried out surveys and soundings on a treeless area of the estate. They found the bones of four people and more than 70 pieces of ballistic evidence, from different types of firearm which had been used in the executions. Years of research in archives and interviews with survivors had finally produced a result: there were communal graves there.
The families began to find out more about the fate of their parents or grandparents.

Read more

Hundreds of people killed

The determination of the families, encouraged by the discovery of the four skeletons, led to a new project by the Asociación de Familiares de Represeliados por el Franquismo en La Sauceda y El Marrufo. On 1st July 2012, with financial support from Grupo Festina, whose founder is the grandson and great-grandson of republicans who were executed at El Marrufo, archaeologists, anthropologists, students and volunteers began work on the excavation. They recovered the remains of 28 people who had been buried in seven communal graves. All were adults, aged between 18 and 60. There were 21 men and seven women.

But those 28 were only some of them. We know the names of more than 50 people who were shot in La Sauceda valley, and historians calculate that the number of bodies buried clandestinely in other parts of the estate and the valley could total several hundred.

Following the results from the archaeological work carried out at El Marrufo in 2011, the Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar proposed a second campaign in the summer of 2012.


Read more

Evidence of genocide

Many of the corpses which were exhumed had bullet holes in their skulls, many showed signs of fractured or shattered bones and some had wires around their wrists, indicating that they had been tied up before being executed. The signs of violence to which they had been subjected, the collective depositing of their bodies in a non-conventional grave, the desire to hide them, the secrecy with which the executions were carried out to ensure impunity from the crimes, the political motivation for the killings... all this means that El Marrufo was the site of an authentic genocide.

Juan Manuel Guijo, who before the project at El Marrufo had taken part in nine campaigns to exhume victims of Francoism, says there are some unusual aspects of the graves at the estate which he had never come across before. He considers there were signs that clearly indicate genocide: the collective dumping of corpses in unconventional graves, the signs of violence to which they had been subjected, the wish for secrecy to ensure impunity from the crimes, and the distance from any inhabited village or community. All of that points to genocide.


Read more

Homage to the victims, in the restored cemetery

On 1st December 2012 the remains of the 28 people who had been shot, who were found in the excavations at El Marrufo, were buried in the cemetery at La Sauceda, which had been rebuilt as part of the project. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of people from all over Andalucía. Beside the entrance door to the mausoleum a ceramic plaque has been installed, bearing the names of all those who died or disappeared in the valley of La Sauceda and about whom, at present, nothing is known.

In 2014, the Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar and the Asociación de Familiares de Represaliados en La Sauceda y El Marrufo announced that they had managed to identify 13 of the 28 people whose remains had been exhumed.

On 1st December 2012 the remains of the 28 people were buried at La Sauceda cemetery, which had also been restored as part of the project carried out by the association of families of those who suffered reprisals, and thanks to the sponsorship of Grupo Festina.


Read more