428km (265 miles) N of Madrid, 84km (52 miles) W of San Sebastián
The subject of Picasso's most famous painting (returned to Spain from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and now displayed at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid), Guernica (Gernika in Basque), the spiritual home of the Basques and the seat of Basque nationalism, was destroyed in a Nazi air raid on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. It was the site of a revered oak tree, under whose branches Basques had elected their officials since medieval times. No one knows how many died during the 3 1/2-hour attack -- estimates range from 200 to 2,000. The bombers reduced the town to rubble, but a mighty symbol of independence was born. Although activists around the world attempted to rally support for the embattled Spanish Republicans, governments everywhere, including that of the United States, left the Spaniards to fend for themselves, refusing to supply them with arms.
The town has been attractively rebuilt close to its former style. A church bell chimes softly, and laughing children play in the street. In the midst of this peace, however, you'll suddenly come upon a sign: SOUVENIRS... REMEMBER.
The former Basque parliament, Casa de Juntas (Juntetxea; tel. 94-625-11-38), is the principal attraction in town. It contains a historical display of Guernica and is open June to September daily 10am to 2pm and 4 to 7pm, October to May daily 10am to 2pm and 4 to 6pm. Admission is free. Outside are the remains of the ancient communal oak tree, symbol of Basque independence; it wasn't uprooted by Hitler's bombs. From the train station, head up Calle Urioste.
Fundación Museo de la Paz de Guernica, Foru Plaza 1 (tel. 94-627-02-13; www.museodelapaz.org), contains a permanent exhibition of the bombing as depicted in photographs in 1937 and in artifacts, including bomb fragments bearing Luftwaffe markings. We learn that the tragic bombing on a market day (greater casualties that way) began at 4pm and lasted for 1 to 3 hours, as Nazi bombers unloaded thousand-pound bombs and thousands of incendiary projectiles on the helpless Basque populace. On one wall of the museum is a framed letter from President Roman Herzog of Germany, dated March 27, 1997, acknowledging German responsibility for the indefensible act of aerial bombardment and calling for reconciliation and peace. Copies of Picasso's working drawings for Guernica are also displayed.
July and August, the museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and Sunday 10am to 3pm; September to June, it's open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm and 4 to 7pm, Sunday from 10am to 2pm. Admission is 4€ for adults, 2€ for students and seniors, and free for kids 10 and under.