In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite (Aragon) was destroyed in a fierce battle between loyalist Spanish Republican forces and General Franco's rebel forces. A new town was built later near the ruins while the old Belchite was abandoned. If you like shooting ghost towns this is the place to go in Spain.
THE BATTLE OF BELCHITE
Belchite was the location of a sadly known battle that took place in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.
The Battle of Belchite was fought by Spanish Republicans, who represented the democratic government set in Spain just a few years before and the Nationalist rebels run by Francisco Franco. At that time, Belchite was a fortified town with some 4,000 inhabitants. The town found itself on the front lines of these two armies. The Republicans were trying a new series of offensives in order to slow down the Nationalist advance in Aragon.
By the way, the real target of both armies was to conquer Zaragoza, located only at short distance behind enemy lines. Conquering Aragon's capital would have been more than a mere symbolic meaning. In fact, Zaragoza was the communication centre of the whole Aragon front.
Republicans and Nationalists fought each other in Belchite for two weeks between 24 August and 7 September 1937. It was one among the fiercest battles of the Spanish Civil War. Some 150,000 soldiers along with over 100 tanks and 90 aircrafts participated to the battle. It ended with a temporary Republicans' victory after some 4,800 soldiers died and over 6,000 were wounded.
One year later, the Nationalists retook the town during their final offensive in Aragon and they won the war. Franco decided to rebuild the new town of Belchite just 2 km away from the original destroyed village which was declared National Monument. The new town was almost entirely built by the over 2,000 Republican prisoners.
Today, as the ruins are fenced off, you can visit the old village only through guided tours available at the local tourist office in the new town.
Easiest way to reach Belchite from Zaragoza is driving though three daily buses cover the same journey.
Belchite is located in one of the driest places in Spain and in summer it can be really hot. Because during the day the light can be quite harsh, best time for shooting photos is in the early morning or late afternoon when both light and heat start to soften. Buildings can look kind of yellow and flat if the warm and golden light is falling on them directly. The best light comes from the side, where it casts soft shadows that pick out the details.
The abandoned buildings can be seen and shot also out of the fence if you don't join the guided tours. Just go to Plaza Goya and take the side street that runs alongside Belchite Viejo.
Try to get a high viewpoint for photographing at sunrise or sunset. This can help you to take advantage of the light and will give you a good establishing shot of the whole site.
Another not to miss abandoned village as a result of the Spanish Civil war is Roden, some 25 km away from Belchite. This one is much smaller than Belchite but its hilltop position make this ghost town perfect for a few photos. Driving your own or rent car is the only option to reach this place.