A country palace given to Spain’s former fascist dictator, General Francisco Franco, to use as his summer house is to be expropriated from his family and donated to the people of the country town of Sada, north-west Spain.
The town hall of Sada has passed a motion that it claims will permit it to take control of the Pazo de Meirás, a crenelated country pile with views over the verdant countryside of Galicia.
Town councilors have decreed that the palace, built in the 19th century to resemble a castle, must be “for public use”, a step that they say allows them to seize the building, which is still used by the dictator’s wealthy descendants.
“This town hall is working to make sure the Pazo de Meirás can become public property in the shortest possible time,” said Sada’s mayor, Abel López of the Galician Nationalist Block party.
The palace was bought by public subscription and given to Franco in 1939, the year the civil war finished and his 36-year dictatorship began. Those who did not donate risked being viewed as left-wingers or “reds”, opponents of the fascist Franco – and the same people who the general defeated after the right-wing military uprising that sparked the Spanish civil war in 1936.
The building and its six hectares of land, which had belonged to the Galician writer Emilia Pardo Bazán, were deemed to be “a gift from the people of La Coruña”.
Franco used it for his summer holidays, when he would return to his native Galicia to fish and hunt. After his death in 1975 it passed to his daughter, Carmen, who became the 1st Duchess of Franco.
Regional authorities have declared it a listed building, thereby obliging the family to open it to the public four times a year. They have so far refused to do so.
They also refused to allow inspectors from the province’s regional government in to see whether the building was being properly maintained. A court eventually obliged them to open their doors.
But it was not clear, however, exactly how the town would acquire the palace, or how much it would cost.
Campaigners are demanding it be taken from the Franco family without compensation. “It would not be fair to pay for something that was stolen in the first place,” said the human rights organisation Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, in La Coruña, which campaigns on behalf of victims of the general’s regime.
“We haven’t ruled out any of the possible means of acquiring it,” explained María Xosé Carnota, a local councilor. That would include a negotiated settlement with the family.
Franco’s family became wealthy during the dictatorship, with the general passing a large number of properties to his heirs, including at least three palaces given to him as presents. The family has prospered in the years since his death in 1975, mainly because of their property investments.
His daughter was detained at Lausanne airport, in Switzerland, a few years after his death when she was deemed to be smuggling some of her father’s more valuable medals into the country. She now lives a discreet life of luxury and stays in the Meirás palace during August.
She is rarely seen in public, but attends the annual mass said in Franco’s memory at the vast Valley of the Fallen underground basilica outside Madrid, the tomb where the dictator had himself buried.
The mass attracts Franco nostalgists and neo-fascists from around Europe. This year’s mass was not held inside the basilica, which belongs to the Spanish state, because it was closed for renovation.
Some members of the Franco family, including his granddaughter Carmen, have become popular figures in Spain’s gossip press. She featured in a recent Spanish version of Strictly Come Dancing. www.guardian.co.uk