Changing the end of the war

The Alcoletge Civil War Centre is opening an escape room in which the participants are charged with obtaining rebel plans to avoid the occupation of Catalonia

“We already do guided tours, but we wanted more dynamic and participatory activities to expand what we offer”
There are maps of military operations in the area, fuel tanks, soldiers’ helmets, original clothing and propaganda posters

@It is early January 1939. In their rapid advance from the Aragón front, the high command of the Nationalist rebel troops has set up an operations centre in the small town of Alcoletge (Segrià, Lleida). It is here where the preparations begin for the final offensive against Catalonia. The Republican forces are due to send their air force to bombard the base within the hour. In the meantime, a battalion has been dispatched to obtain the plans for the upcoming operation. If they manage to get them, they might be able to stop the offensive, and who knows how that could change the course of the war. Yet if they don’t get there in time, they will be caught in the deadly bombardment.

This is the set-up for a new escape room that the Civil War Heritage Interpretation Centre “Ermengol Piró” in the Lleida town of Alcoletge will soon open on weekends with the help of a grant from the Democratic Memorial historical memory organisation. “We already do guided tours, but we wanted more dynamic and participatory activities and to expand what we can offer the visitor,” says Laura Pinto, the archaeologist and the initiative’s ideological educator.

The initial proposal was for a game of clues as part of the series of educational activities on offer in the facilities. However, that became an idea to use leisure activities to address an adult audience not used to visiting centres like Ermengol Piró. The result is a space on the museum’s upper floor has been turned into an escape room.

“Apart from it being a game, we want the activity to have historical rigour. We have set it at a key moment when the final offensive against Catalonia is beginning, after the Segre front was broken, the Republican forces defeated and Catalonia became quickly occupied,” says Pinto.

Technically the new activity is a mix between an escape room and a hall escape. While the former consists of a group of people escaping a room by solving a series of puzzles in a set time, a hall escape is much more about solving the puzzles to complete a particular mission or goal.

Meanwhile, the organisers have gone to great lengths to take care of every detail in order to recreate the period: there are maps showing military operations in the area, fuel tanks, soldiers’ helmets, original clothing and propaganda posters, along with different environments, such as the commander’s office, presided over by a crucifix.

The experience begins with an explanation to provide the participants with the historical context. The players then have to uncover clues, hidden codes and solve puzzles. “It will be the first Civil War escape room,” says manager, Jezabel Pizarro.

School groups

As 25 people cannot fit in the escape room, during the week there is another version of the activity for school groups that is based on clues spread throughout the centre that the pupils have to find as they explore the information on display. “We use real data for the high school pupils so that the dates and information stays in their heads,” says Pizarro. This approach of using games to learn about the Civil War is one of the many initiatives developed by the interpretation centre to promote local heritage.

The museum and the Alcoletge local authority, along with the support of the Institute for Lleida Studies, began archaeological and restoration work on the Tossal de la Nora Civil War site in December. The spectacular zigzag system of trenches drilled into the rock are being cleaned up, while panels with graphic content and informative texts are being put up to explain the context for the fortifications on what was part of the Segre front during the Civil War. The trench system can be visited as part of an itinerary designed by conservator and restorer María Martínez for the Democratic Memorial Spaces Network.

Observatory restored

In addition, not far from the trench system, the local authority last year carried out a conservation and improvement project on the Tossal dels Morts observatory, a Republican fortification that was used to carry out surveillance tasks along the front line. The structure was reinforced so that the fissures and stones of the old Islamic wall that form part of the observatory’s structure did not constitute a danger for visitors, while the exhibition material was also updated.

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