The bombing of Guernica (26 April 1937) was an aerial bombing of the Basque town of Guernica (Gernika in Basque) during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing, conducted by Franco’s German and Italian allies, left the town of Gernika in ruins. After the end of Franco’s reign in Spain and the return to democracy, the difficult heritage of the town was “re-discovered”. This included early attempts at organising school tours, though these were in the view of Iratxe Momoitio Astorkia of poor quality and tended to not provide much in the way of sound historical explanations.
Building upon their permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Museum, and responding to the need of historically sound tours, the Museo de la Paz decided to establish “memory tours” around the town starting in 2018.
Introduction to the teaching practice:
The memory tours and accompanying educational materials on the Museum exhibitions are available in the Basque, Spanish, French and English languages. The tours have become increasingly popular outside of Spain with the Erasmus+ scheme of the European Union greatly contributing to the success of the tours among audiences from countries such as France and Germany. In the year prior to the pandemic, the Museum welcomed around 16 000 students from France alone, where the Spanish Civil War features prominently in the curriculum. In contrast, Spanish students learn comparatively little about the Civil War through their education.
The Museum now offers a total of seven memory tours, focused on different topics: Anti-aircraft shelters: witnesses of the bombing of April 26th 1937, The reconstruction of Gernika after the bombing, Monuments and the victims of the bombing, Picasso and the Guernica, The Cemetery of Gernika: Witness to the Spanish Civil War, Women of Gernika: the Changes of the 20th Century through their Experiences, and The War Correspondents in Gernika. The tours are also offered in combination with an entrance to the Museo de la Paz de Gernika, with the Museum’s pedagogical approach based on the principles of peace education.
While some schools arrive at the walks having done minimal preparations in advance, the “ideal” visitors have made use of the teacher guide on the Spanish Civil War made available online, and introduced the topic to their students before entering the museum and finally taking part in the memory tour.
Applying this teaching practice
Target age group: 11-18. The materials for younger students are made simple and feature more drawings and less text, in the style of a graphic novel. In the Spanish context, older students have a large workload and need to focus on their exams and as a result often have less opportunities for museum visits and memory tours.
Prerequisites for this activity: Students should have an understanding of the Spanish Civil War. The Peace Museum offers online educational materials on this period of Spanish history that will help prepare students for their visit to the museum and the memory walks.
Duration: Approximately 75 minutes, maximum 2 hours.
Teacher preparation: Depending on the place of the Spanish Civil War in the curriculum, preparation with the Museum’s online education materials or other material on the period is required.
Application and adaptation: The peace education methodology used in the Museum is highly adaptable. Memory tours/walks have also been successfully implemented in highly varied settings, see for instance this example targeting international students.
The Museum has prepared teaching guides, including on assessment, that can be adapted to new contexts.
Advantages, limitations and lessons learnt
A clear limitation is the time and effort required by teacher and students in organising a visit outside of the school premises. In Spain it is up to the teacher to go out of their way to introduce a visit. For older students approaching their graduation this will often be seen as an unwelcome distraction from the exam preparations. To offer schools, students and teachers unable to organise such a visit an alternative solution, the Museum has published a number of online study materials.
A memory walk requires energy and concentration. The timing of this school trip is important, and in Iratxe Momoitio Astorki’s experience such tours should be avoided around the end of the semester when students may be busy with exams and other activities.
The Museum is working on solutions for students with disabilities. Some of the walks are suitable for students in wheelchairs. A magnetic aid for students who have hearing disabilities is in the making.
Iratxe Momoitio Astorki pointed to an interesting lesson learnt: Due to the relative lack of teaching on the Spanish Civil War in Spain itself, local students frequently arrive with a poor or non-existent understanding of the events that took place in Gernika and in the wider scope of the Civil War. Understanding the level of the student group is therefore essential to a visit and it should not be assumed that being “local” indicates a greater knowledge of events. Another lesson learnt is the importance of tailoring the content to the needs of young people, with increasing focus on audio-visual materials.
The effect of the practice
Students who have joined the tour generally indicate that there was a lot of new information they did not know before. Most students express astonishment that the city was completely destroyed. In this sense, the walking tours and museum exhibits are perhaps most impactful with “local” groups of students who receive little information on the period and the bombing of Gernika in their formal schooling. Testimonials of survivors are among the elements that give students a lasting memory and appreciation for the events.
Additional Resources / Similar Institutions of the area:
*This Teaching Practice was collected for the Critical History project with co-funding of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, on the basis of an interview with Iratxe Momoitio Astorkia, Director of the Gernika Peace Museum. The interview was conducted in spring 2022 by Robin Garganese and Andreas Holtberget.
The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.