Tour 1: John Cornford and Madrid’s Western Front

 Frontline Madrid cover vis [2]_Layout 1

This walking tour of John Cornford and Madrid’s Western front is covered in Dr David Mathieson’s fully illustrated guide to the battlefield sites of the civil war around Madrid.   Click on the icon to order your paperback or kindle copy

In the November 1936 Madrid became the focus of world attention. The capital of Spain was held by the republicans but General Franco’s rebel army was closing in fast and few expected the city to survive the final assault  Yet Madrid did not fall.  Ordinary Madrileños and volunteers from the International Brigades fought tooth and nail  defend Madrid in the parks, streets and university campus close to the city centre.  Under the famous slogan ‘No Pasarán’ (they will not pass) the nationalist advance was held in a battle which has been compared to Stalingrad and entered into legend.

Bunkers in the University District

Tour Itinerary

This walking tour will explain how the struggle for Madrid unfolded in the tense, desperate weeks of November 1936. It tells the story of ‘No Pasarán’ (‘they shall not pass’) the republican slogan used during the defence of Madrid. It is an extraordinary tale of an exceptional time driven by remarkable people.

Our walk will explore the front line of the fighting as the battle raged in the parks, streets and on the University campus close to the city centre.  Our tour will cover the battlefield on the western side of Madrid where the most important action took place. We will visit the Parque Debod (Debod Park),Parque Oeste (West Park) and University campus stopping along the way to see the remains of the war which are still there today (above). Looking out over the river Manzanares and the Casa de Campo we will see the nationalist artillery positions from which they shelled the city night and day. On the bike tour will head down river to see the remains of the Pasarela de la Muerte (gangway of death), used by the nationalists to supply troops in their bridgehead stronghold in the University campus.  We will walk along the front line and visit the key points of interest in the University, where the terrain and many of the buildings still bear scars from the fighting.

The walking tour will also tell the story of the volunteers of the International Brigades, like writer John Cornford, who came to fight for the republican cause in Spain. And on the university campus we will see the only memorial in Madrid to the those volunteers many of whom, like Cornford, fought – and died – in the fighting across the university.

This popular exploration of the Spanish civil war and Madrid’s Western front can be done as a walking tour or by bicycle according to the preference of the visitor.   There is no need to travel outside Madrid and the tour time is 3 hours (maximum).

On arrangement, the walking tour leaves Madrid at 10:00 am from the principal entrance to Parque Debod, beneath the fallen soldier memorial. The Parque Debod entrance is at the junction Calle Ferraz with Paseo Pintor Rosales, opposite the Plaza de España.

contact us at

The faculty building in the University where Cornford and Brigaders held out
The University faculty as it looked during the Spanish civil war


The faculty building as it looks today

More about John Cornford…

John Cornford was one of the young International Brigade volunteers.  Born into a family of distinguished academics – he was Charles Darwin’s great grandson – Cornford graduated from Cambridge in 1936 with a First class degree. Like many anti-fascists of his generation, he was a communist and quickly joined the Spanish republican forces to fight in the civil war. Cornford was badly wounded in the fighting at university and a month later, on his 21st birthday, he was killed in action. His body has never been recovered. is a critical analyis in the Guardian of one Cornford work which was chosen as their Poem of the Week.

…and the Casa de Campo and University in the civil war slide show of images from the Madrid front set to well known Republcan anti-fascist songs



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s