Exhumations, San Fernando Cemetery, Sevilla
Thousands of skulls and bones, neatly packed into plastic boxes, filled the small room almost up to the ceiling.
This real-life chamber of horrors was the result of three years of painstaking work extracting about 7,000 craniums, femurs, and other bones, the remains of 1,786 people, from one of Spain's biggest mass graves, known as Pico Reja.
Arranged on a table in front were two skulls, punctured by neat bullet holes.
Beyond these gruesome artefacts are the stories of those condemned to death for being on the wrong side in the Spanish Civil War.
Some were supporters of the Republican government which was overthrown by a nationalist uprising led in Seville by General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano. Others, however, were children who simply starved to death because their families were left-wingers.
Within the boxes are human brains, preserved over 80 years since they were silenced by a single gunshot, and the short bones of children who died from malnutrition.
This is not even the largest mass grave left from the horrors perpetrated during the civil war. A larger treasure trove of pain is in Malaga where the remains of 2,800 people were discovered.
Other graves dotted around Spain contain the remains of those slaughtered by the Republicans. No-one escaped the savagery. Historians estimate about 114,000 people were dumped in makeshift graves around the country.
Pico Reja is a two-metre-deep grave which lies in the corner of a huge cemetery next to flamboyant gravestones dedicated to bullfighters, flamenco dancers or, in one case, ‘The Son of the King of Gypsies’.
The contrast between the dead who lie under auspicious gravestones and the jumbled bones in Pico Reja is striking. One speaks of dignity and respect for the dead; the other says the remains of these murdered victims were dumped without a second thought, like animals.
Ana Sanchez hopes that she may discover the remains of her two uncles who may lie in the makeshift grave. Antonio and Ramon Sanchez Moreno were 26 and 20 respectively when they were shot after mock trials at the start of the fascist uprising in 1936. Antonio never saw his baby son.
Like scores of others, Sanchez has given a sample of DNA which she hopes will be matched with the remains of one or other of her uncles as part of a project organised by Seville council, the University of Granada and Aranzadi, a non-profit scientific association. “What we want is justice. We want my uncles to get a proper grave one day,” she says.
Her uncles’ remains may lie in Pico Reja or another mass grave which has yet to be excavated. El Monumento, which lies close by, should be opened later in 2023. But in modern Spain, politics is haunted by the ghosts of the past. The opposition conservative People’s Party has said if it wins local elections in Seville in May it may not support more excavations. Similarly, if it wins a general election in December 2023, it has promised to repeal the Democratic Memory Law, passed by the ruling Socialists, which dedicated public funds for a national DNA bank for relatives of the victims of Franco.