The Defense of Madrid: They Shall Not Pass and Under a Single Command

Learn about Madrid under siege after the failed coup in July 1936, through the world of posters.

The Spanish Civil War

On July 17, 1936, a large section of the Spanish army attempted a coup d'état against the Republican government, which had held power since April 1931. The failed coup triggered a civil war that lasted for three years, until April 1, 1939.

Woman, who is to blame for this?... (Circa 1937) by UnknownPablo Iglesias Foundation

Posters in the civil war

Posters were the main propaganda tool during the Spanish Civil War, in a world in which television did not yet exist, and radios were still not widespread. Posters were a form of popular art and could reach an entire population, expressing emotions and ideas in a way that no other medium could.

Their initial purpose as a means of advertising paved the way for their use by the authorities to disseminate political and military ideas, and to convey their ideals of justice and liberty. Join us as we explore how this was done.

On 18 July we said They will not pass!... (Circa 1937) by FerguiPablo Iglesias Foundation

They shall not pass

The phrase "¡No pasarán! (They shall not pass!)" was first used in World War I, and became the slogan associated with the Defense of Madrid.

They will not pass! shout the new recruits (Circa 1937) by MentorPablo Iglesias Foundation

Believed to have been coined at the Battle of Verdun in World War I, either by the French general Robert Nivelle, or by General Philippe Petain, the phrase "They shall not pass" became the classic antifascist battle cry.

On 18 July we said They will not pass!... (Circa 1937) by FerguiPablo Iglesias Foundation

The glorious Madrid is invincible (1937) by JosanPablo Iglesias Foundation

Comparisons between the Defense of Madrid and the 1808 Spanish War of Independence were a recurring theme in posters during the civil war. The city's defenders were depicted like the stylish young men from Madrid's working class (called majos) in Francisco de Goya's paintings, facing an invader—once French; now Francoist.

Madrid bear... (Circa 1937) by UnknownPablo Iglesias Foundation

The bear is the animal traditionally associated with Madrid and its inhabitants, having first appeared on the city's coat of arms in 1212. For this reason, it is a recurring theme in poster art, representing the bravery of the city's residents.

The salvation of Madrid and Spain lies in the Popular Front... (1937) by UnknownPablo Iglesias Foundation

The Popular Front (Frente Popular) brought together various political parties on the left to take part in the elections of February 1936, which they won.

Defend Madrid... (Circa 1937) by J. BrionesPablo Iglesias Foundation

Under a Single Command

After November 7, 1936, with the Republican government having relocated to Valencia, Madrid was left under the control of the Madrid Defense Council (Junta de Defensa de Madrid), with General José Miaja in charge of defending the city as the front's sole commander.

Defend Madrid... (Circa 1937) by J. BrionesPablo Iglesias Foundation

The numerous parties that made up the Popular Front weakened the military command, making it necessary to impose a single command that would concentrate all efforts to defend the Republic.

Defend Madrid... (Circa 1937) by EspertPablo Iglesias Foundation

The front was stabilized in the western part of the city, with the fighting mainly focused on the Ciudad Universitaria neighborhood, Casa de Campo park, the road known as Carretera de La Coruña, and the Villaverde and Usera districts.

7th November 1936 Madrid (1936) by TomásPablo Iglesias Foundation

Although the city had been hounded by Francoist troops since late August 1936, it wasn't until November 7 that they began their main attack on the city. In the popular imagination, planes were the main threat.

They will not pass! November 7th. Madrid (Circa 1937) by Espert and J. BrionesPablo Iglesias Foundation

The feeling of knowing they were under siege was used to incentivize the population to remain alert, driven by their fear of the approaching rebel army. The daily suffering caused by fascist air raids only contributed to that.

The people of Madrid... (1937) by ParrillaPablo Iglesias Foundation

José Miaja (1878–1958) was the most powerful Spanish soldier in the Republican army during the civil war. He was responsible for the Defense of Madrid, and later led the army in the central-southern region. When the war ended, he went into exile in Mexico.

The people of Madrid ask for... (Circa 1937) by AugustoPablo Iglesias Foundation

The Laureate Badge of Madrid replaced the Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand (Spain's highest military decoration) in the Republican zone from March 8, 1937. It was awarded to General Miaja on June 13, 1937 on the request of Madrid, for his leading role in the defense of the city.

Woman, who is to blame for this?... (Circa 1937) by UnknownPablo Iglesias Foundation

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Art of the Spanish Civil War
Poster art during war in the Pablo Iglesias Foundation. Explore a key collection to our understanding of 20th-century political propaganda.
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