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Monographics - Santiago Square Civil War Shelter



City War Shelter

Santiago Square


The Civil War in Jaén

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on 18th July 1936 resulted in three years of fratricidal battles bringing devastation to the country. A terrible atmosphere together with the development of aviation for war purposes lead to the construction of several antiaircraft shelters in the most conflicting areas in order to protect the civil population. Jaén did not have any significant strategic values at the beginning of the war so the city didn’t have an appropriate defence system 
On 1st April 1937 at 17.20 in the afternoon, Jaén was bombed by order of the general Gonzalo Queipo Llano in response to the attack of the Republican forces in Cordoba that had taken place the same morning. The bombing was carried out by six three-engine planes accompanied by an escort group comprising of nine jet fighters that entered the south side of the city and made one single attack. A total of 68 bombs of 50kgs and 7 bombs of 250kgs were dropped. Some of the bombs landed in highly populated and congested areas such as: 


-San Ildefonso Square, damaging the façade of the Basilica, where the damage which was caused by the shrapnel still remaining visible today.

-Deán Mazas Square, damaging part of the Treasury building.

-Fontanilla Street, currently Federico Mendizabal street; it was the bloodiest attack, causing 22 deaths.

The high death toll is reflected in the numbers below:
Adult men: 53
Adult women: 37
Below 18 (M or F): 64
Men, age unknown: 2
Women, age unknown: 1
Total: 157


The high number of victims below 18 years old is incredibly noticeable. This was because at that time, students in public schools didn’t have class on a Thursday afternoon, the moment that the bombing took place; therefore many children were playing in their houses or the streets. 

That same afternoon, on the 1st April, at 20:00 hours, the Provincial Committee of the Popular Front held a meeting in the Civilian Government in which the members decided to shoot the same number of prisoners to people that had died in the bombing close to the National Front. As a result 128 prisoners were shot during the days of the 2nd to 7th of July on the walls of Mancha Real’s cemetery.
The following day, the commission of the Popular Front together with the mayor of the city met to plan the construction of some refuges in order to reassure the population. The project was drawn up in only five days; the project was entrusted to the architects Antonio María Sánchez, town architect, and to Luis Berges Martinez, provincial architect. The shelter had a specific capacity of 1040 people and had three tunnels that one can still visit today. 

Initially, six shelters were supposed to have been built with the following geographical breakdown:

-         Moscú square (Magdalena square)

-         Merced square

-         Old prison (Martínez Molina)

-         Santiago square (the only one open to the public today)

-         Largo Caballero square (San Juan square)

-         Canalejas square (San Ildefonso square)


Finally, 35 shelters were built; also 114 shelters more were reported to have been built in private houses.

Nowadays, the shelter is a space of peace that pays tribute to the victims. It tries to explain the circumstances and historical background of the period to the visitors through photographs and explanatory texts.
1.-Example of military architecture in war periods
2.- Enclave of the tourist-artistic itinerary of the city.
3.- Centre for the Recovery of Historical Memory.


The name of the shelter comes from the old church of Santiago that was located above the area where today we can find the shelter. That church had medieval origins, in the 18th century it was reported that it was already in ruins. In 1810, a French captain decided to tear down the church to use the stones to reinforce the construction of Santa Catalina's Castle.  

  • It is said that one of the escort pilots of the bomber aircraft was from Jaén, so he decided to abandon the mission when he discovered that his hometown was the objective of the bombing.
  • The clock of San Ildefonso church remained stopped at 17.20 for a long time; it was the hour of the bombing.
  • The poet Miguel Hernández wrote numerous articles about the bombing in Frente Sur.
  • Most of the population of the city fled to the Santa Catalina hills or to the countryside around it because fear spread quickly across the city. The owners of farmhouses moved to them until the very end of war.
  • The reference point of the bombing was the cathedral.
  • The orders of operation guided the pilots to the reference point from where they had to start to bomb, this place is supposed to be the eastern side of the cathedral.

Source document: Bombardeo de Jaén (Juan Cuevas Mata)