MADRID - Visitors ranging from curious to nostalgic took in the new look of Spain's Civil War shrine in the Valley of the Fallen, as it reopened on Tuesday five days after the government exhumed the remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco from the mausoleum.
A black marble slab, noticeably darker than its neighbors, covered the spot in the main basilica which once enclosed the tomb of the general whose name still divides opinion in Spain.
Within hours of the site reopening, without fanfare or queues, red and yellow roses — the colors of the Spanish flag — appeared, strewn sparsely over the stone.
But Juan Roig, a Spaniard in his late 50s visiting the site, said he felt better knowing that Franco was no longer there.
"Much better, sincerely ... I hadn't come before, precisely because (Franco) was buried here. And today is my first time here," said Roig, visibly moved.
Spain's ruling Socialists had long pledged to remove Franco's remains and any elements celebrating the fascist dictator from the edifice, which serves as a mass grave for over 34,000 soldiers both nationalist and leftist republican.
After the three-year civil war ended in 1939, Franco ordered thousands of republicans' bodies be moved to the Valley of the Fallen, often against or without their families' consent. The fact that a dictator was buried alongside his victims was part of the acting government's rationale for removing his remains on Thursday.
But the issue could prove a double-edged sword for the Socialists ahead of a Nov. 10 parliamentary election, Spain's fourth in as many years, as it appeared to strengthen the far-right Vox party, which had opposed the move, in opinion polls.
"On the other hand, so much focus on Franco seemed excessively like marketing to some left-wing voters, with the helicopters — it was all very Hollywood," said Narciso Michavila, head of polling agency GAD3.
For foreign visitors such as Ulrik Soldberg from Denmark, the Valley is a must-see with or without Franco. "We came because we heard so much about it," Soldberg told Reuters on Tuesday.
American tourist Murray Iansky, however, is conscious of the political significance of Franco's exhumation: "The victors make the history. ... Now this is the victory of (Spain's) new government and democracy and everything."