The historic clash between fascists and antifascists in the Spanish Civil War has been enacted anew in the city of Valencia through a living history trail on the award-winning Hidden Cities apps.

‘Civil War Stories’, set in 1937, seeks to bring to life both sides of the conflict, creating a historical thriller in which a communist member of the Republic’s secret police hunts a clandestine Francoist across eight sites in Valencia’s city centre.

A collaboration between the University of Exeter team and civil war expert Dr Julius Ruiz at the University of Edinburgh, this is the first Hidden Cities app to tackle a story in the modern era, delving into what was at stake for ordinary citizens during a war that still stirs controversy in Spain today.

Dr David Rosenthal, Hidden Cities trail director, said: “This trail doesn’t only take our project into the twentieth century for the first time, it pushes public history using mobile media in an exciting direction. You’re dropped into Valencia, on a map from the 1930s, and into a kind of ‘situated theatre’. It’s a game of cat and mouse, where both characters, voiced by actors, want to convince you of their position.”

Dr Ruiz, whose research underpins the trail, said: “This story invites anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War to immerse themselves in the lives of a Republican policeman and a Francoist fifth columnist in Valencia. Though the familiar themes of wartime terror, foreign intervention and intellectual engagement are all present, the focus is the intimate struggle between two Valencians who, although on different sides, have more in common than they think.”

Set in October 1937, when the left-wing Republican government, then based in Valencia, was on the back foot against General Franco, the 50-minute trail includes sites such as a civil war shelter, in which the app character Maria takes refuge during an air raid; the fifteenth-century Borgia Palace, then the prime minister’s offices; and Valencia City Hall, which that year hosted a congress of antifascist writers that included Ernest Hemingway, WH Auden, Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola, Chair in Art History and Visual Culture, and head of the Hidden Cities project, said: “Rather than simply presenting a version of history through the lens of modern Spain, after the rebirth of democracy in the late 1970s, the characters strive to recruit us to their views of the world, making it a very contested and active experience. It is story told through two individuals, but one that also played out on a global stage.”

‘Civil War Stories’ is the second trail for the Hidden Valencia app. The first, ‘Revolutionary Road’, led by historians from the University of Valencia and Catholic University of Valencia, explores an artisan uprising in the early 1520s.

Hidden Cities apps include Exeter, Copenhagen, Hamburg, the Dutch city of Deventer, and the Italian cities of Florence and Trento. Venice, Landshut and Tours are scheduled for publication in summer 2023. All are free and available from the Apple App Store and Google Play.