For us Brits, the idea of walking among streets flattened by bombs is one resigned either to black and white photos from the Blitz, or warzones overseas.
But to residents around this part of Spain, it’s one just a short car ride away…
The skeletal remains of Belchite are a living museum of what it was like living amidst war and unrest due to its shelled homes being preserved for nearly a century.
Now abandoned, the small former town dating back to 75AD was raised to the ground in 15 days in a 1937 siege during the country’s civil war.
Residents exterminated, homes desecrated and onlookers horrified – the events resulting in Belchite’s demise are nightmarish stuff.
Rebels invaded the town in August of that year after being held by nationalists trying to resist attempts to overthrow Spain’s Second Republic. The siege resulted in 5,000 casualties and 400 deaths.
Later, figures such as Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhown would visit the site, remarking it had been turned into “less a town, more a nasty smell”.
Some 85 years on, tourists now walk amongst the ruins of buildings to be reminded of the devastating impacts of violence and war. One Google reviewer said it should act as “a warning to those people who think there is such a thing as a winning side”.
Several excavations have been carried out at the site, most recently last year when a mass grave containing the bones of up to 150 victims.
Instead of re-building, dictator Fracisco Franco decided to build a new town right next door, which now hosts a tiny population of 1,600 residents – despite being in an area thought to be one of the most arid in Spain.
The old town’s crumbling remains meanwhile have been used as filming locations, including for Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labrinth, which have compounded the site’s intrigue and cemented it as a niche tourist attraction.
Save for ambling around the ruins, there’s not a great deal to do in Belchite so those looking for an adventure-packed day out at a spot brimming with souvenir shops may be left disappointed. But for those who love venturing to unusual destinations, there are now guided tours of the town.
For those keen to find out more about its past and the Spanish Civil War, there’s also Belchite’s Ethnological Museum, and the nearby San Martin church whose tower has remained intact.