MADRID, Spain -- Pablo Picasso's masterpiece 'Guernica,' depicting the horror of Spain's bloody civil war, arrived home today in secrecy and under heavy guard after waiting 42 years in New York for the return of democracy to the painter's homeland.
The famous painting arrived rolled up aboard an Iberia flight from New York and was whisked off to a museum in a truck escorted by 13 police patrol cars and jeeps along a route guarded by civil guards, motorcycle police and a helicopter.
Picasso painted the black and white record of the terror of a German Nazi air attack in 1937 while a refugee from the 1936-39 Civil War and deposited it with the New York Museum of Modern Art after Gen. Francisco Franco won the war.
The painter, who was living in France, said it could not be returned to Spain until democracy was restored.
'This is a great day for Spain,' said a caller to a radio phone-in program devoted to 'Guernica's' return.
People stood on bridges and looked out of office windows as the motorcade with the painting went from Madrid's Barajas airport to an annex in the famous Prado museum where it will go on display Oct 25.
The 319 passengers and most of the crew on the Boeing 747 did not know the the contents of the wooden box marked 'Ministry of Culture, Box 1,' said flight commander Juan Lopez Duran.
The arrival of 'Guernica' was hailed by one politician Wednesday as 'another sign of the normalization of life in Spain' but fears of terrorist attacks by extreme rightists who hate the late painter for his anti-Franco stand prompted the heavy security.
Spain's two top national police officers spent a week in New York working out the security arrangements for the trip, police sources said.
Nearly six years after Franco's death Nov. 20, 1975, the return of the painting was secured in an agreement announced Wednesday by Minister of Culture Inigo Cavero and museum officials in New York.
A claim on 'Guernica' by some of Picasso's heirs reportedly stalled the return but a document from the tumultuous civil war days found in the Spanish embassy in Paris helped the state win the painting back.
A receipt certified that the embassy, controlled by the government Franco later overthrew, had paid Picasso 150,000 pesetas (now $1,500) for 'Guernica' in 1937.
Picasso began painting the 24-by-11 foot work a week after German warplanes from Adolf Hitler's Condor Legion bombed the Basque town of Guernica April 26, 1937, in the first aerial attack on civilians using incendiary bombs.
Some 1,600 people died in the raid, which shocked world opinion. The Nazis used Guernica and later raids to perfect the terror bombing they unleashed in World War II.