El Bosque de los Ausentes, Madrid, Spain

Category: Madrid

The city of Madrid, Spain, like most major world capitals, has seen its share of tragedy, the most recent example being the Madrid train bombings, carried out on March 11, 2004.  However, if the goal of those who committed these senseless and cowardly attacks was to strike fear and somehow discourage the Spanish people, it can only be said that their efforts failed miserably, as evidenced by the manner in which the Madrid community responded and coped with the tragedy in the days, months and years following the attacks.  One such coping measure, taken exactly one year subsequent to the attacks, was the inauguration of El Bosque de los Ausentes, or the Forest of the Departed—a garden created in Buen Retiro Park to honor those who lost their life on that fateful day.

The Bombings

The Madrid train bombings, also known in Spain as 11-M, consisted of a series of coordinated and nearly simultaneous bomb attacks against the Spanish commuter train, Cercanias.  The attacks, which occurred on March 11, 2004, just three days prior to Spain’s general election, killed 191 people and wounded another 1800.  Investigations into these attacks determined that the 7 perpetrators were linked to an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell, although no direct al-Qaeda participation has ever been established.  Spanish authorities tracked down the 7 bombers to a block of apartments in Madrid, and on April 3, 2004, with the area under siege, they all committed suicide, their final act of cowardice.

El Bosque de los Ausentes

El Bosque de los Ausentes is a memorial garden located in the Parque del Buen Retiro, familiarly known as Retiro Park.   The garden was created to commemorate the 191 civilian victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the special forces agent who perished in the attacks on that now unforgettable date in Spanish history.

If you’re planning to visit Madrid and the beautiful Retiro Park, you will notice that El Bosque de los Ausentes (Forest of Departed) now has a new name:  El Bosque del Recuerdo, or Forest of Remembrance.  This change was requested by the survivors of the attacks and the victims’ families, arguing that those who died on that horrible day are forever present and have not departed from their hearts.

Today, El Bosque del Recuerdo comprises 192 olive trees and cypresses (one for each person killed), and is surrounded by a channel of water meant to symbolize life.  Its location is a large hillock near the Atocha railway, one of the sites of the unthinkable atrocities.

The formal dedication/inauguration of El Bosque de los Ausentes came on March 11, 2005 and was presided over by King Carlos I and Queen Sofia.  They were the first to place flowers at the new site, a bouquet of white flowers with a ribbon that read, “In memory of all the victims of terrorism.”

There were a number of important dignitaries on hand for the inauguration of El Bosque de los Ausentes, including the Spanish president, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and several world leaders, including UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; Afghan president, Hamid Karzai; the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI; and the Prime Minister of Poland, Marek Belka, among many others.  At the request of the victim’s families, no speeches were read during the ceremony. All that was heard was the sweet and solemn music of a 17-year-old cellist playing Song of the Birds by Pau Casals.