Bilbao (Spain)

Bilbao Spain

Bilbao is a city in northern Spain, located in the Basque region. It is the largest city in the province of Biscayne and an important center of industry, culture and art.

One of the most famous symbols of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, which was built in 1997 and became an iconic building for the city. The museum is a huge de-constructivist structure designed by American architect Frank Gehry. The Guggenheim Museum features a collection of modern art, including works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and other famous artists.

The city of Bilbao is also famous for its cuisine, which includes dishes such as pinchos (Basque tapas), bacalua pil-pil (cod stew) and other seafood, as well as Rioja red wine and the traditional Basque drink, txakoli.

In the center of the city is Plaza Nueva, which is the main meeting place for locals and tourists. Here you can find many bars, restaurants and stores, and enjoy the atmosphere of the Spanish city.

Modern Bilbao, which occupies with its suburbs (Baracaldo Gecho, Lejona, Galdacano, Basauri and Gran Bilbao) almost half of Basconia, grew up from a small fishing village. The port village appeared in a favorable location for fishing and trade: at the mouth of the river Nervión, flowing into the Biscayne Lagoon of the Atlantic Ocean. Today it is a carefully guarded area of the big city – Old Bilbao.


The fortunate location could not go unnoticed. More and more evidence is being found that even in ancient times people settled in the area. Ruins of the settlements of the III-II century B.C. were found in the surrounding mountains, and some historians believe that on the site of the old settlement of Bilbao there was an ancient city mentioned in the texts of the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (2379) and the great ancient scholar Ptolemy (87-165). Under one of the city’s churches, the remains of 11th century fortress walls were discovered. Each such find adds centuries to the official date of birth of the city on June 15, 1300, making its already glorious history deeper and richer.

In 1300 the village on the Atlantic coast of Spain was declared a city. This was initiated by the ruler of Biscay, Don Diego Lopez de Haro V (1250-1310), who decided to develop and strengthen the historical port and on January the 4th, 1301 his decision was confirmed and supported by King Ferdinand IV of Castile (1285-1312). Diego Lopez erected a new part of the city on the right bank of the river.

The growing commercial center was given new lands and privileges, which accelerated its development and protected it from enemy raids and internecine strife. The route of the Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago) was crucial to its growth: since 1315 this pilgrimage route to the relics of the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, had passed through Bilbao. The route linked many cities of northern Spain and encouraged innovation of all kinds during the Middle Ages. The Way of Saint James is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1511, Queen Juana (Juana) I of Castile (1479-1555) established the Maritime Consulate here, a legal body that dealt with the legal issues of river and sea trade, which by that time was conducted with Europe (including Great Britain) and established with the Americas. Progressive technical innovations from all over the world turned out to be the first thing in this center. Even its own printing house appeared here earlier than in many other Spanish cities. And in 1596 the first book in Basque was printed there. Was rebuilt the Cathedral of St. James (which in 1949 became a cathedral) and the new roads were carried out – a total of seven, which remained the name of the historic center of the city, which is called the area of “Seven Roads”.

In 1602 Bilbao conquered another administrative pinnacle by becoming the capital of the province of Biscay. In the seventeenth century, the discovery of iron ores in the vicinity contributed to the city’s prosperity; by trading them with England and Holland, Bilbao avoided a major economic crisis that engulfed the rest of the country.

By the 19th century the city had become the largest industrial center of the Basque Country and the scene of the dynastic Carlist wars (1833-1840 and 1872-1876) between two branches of the Spanish Bourbons. By the early 20th century Bilbao was one of the richest cities in Spain and its leading business center. It is beloved as the headquarters of major banks and insurance companies.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to defend the city was built a system of bunkers, connected by underground labyrinths – the “Ring of Iron”, but it did not help. Nevertheless, the industrial center, which fell under the power of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975), supported the undermined economy of the whole country. In the 1950s Bilbao received a wave of mass immigration from other parts of the country: as a result of the surge in the number of inhabitants in the city slums appeared. This social situation led to the birth of ETA (1959), a pro-independence terrorist organization whose chief ideologist is considered the “father of the Basques”, politician, nationalist and revolutionary Sabino Arana (1865-1903). In the 2000s, members of ETA reminded their hometown of themselves several times.

Bilbao has survived many historical collisions, but in the 1980s it experienced a significant decline in its development. A very unexpected way out was found – the industrial and business Bilbao was reoriented to tourism, and a unique project allowed it. Since 1997 Bilbao is a center of contemporary art: in that year a branch of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA) was opened, where everything from conception to implementation meets the latest trends of modern architecture and museum business. Whereas previously museums, including those devoted to contemporary art, were often located in mansions inherited from the city, for this collection a special building was constructed, which in itself is a masterpiece of deconstructivist architecture, born from the teachings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Architect Frank Gehry (real name Ephraim Goldberg, born 1929) designed a building in the form of a gigantic fantasy ship, a bird or a blooming flower made of sandstone slabs, glass panels and titanium (the total area of the latter material is about 24,000 m2). No wonder it has become a true work of art and an iconic tourist attraction. The collection itself is worthy of no less attention: it contains masterpieces of avant-garde painting and sculpture of the 20th century, as well as many installations and examples of electronic art. As a result, according to a survey by Vanity Fair magazine, the Bilbao museum topped the list of outstanding architectural projects from 1980 to 2010.

The appearance of a museum of this level provoked the so-called “Guggenheim effect”: urban space continued to develop according to the rules set by this project. Thus, other original buildings appeared in Bilbao: the Euskaldun conference center and concert hall (Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios), the subway designed by Norman Foster, futuristic streetcars, the Iberdrola Tower (Cesar Pelli), the Subisuri suspension arch pedestrian bridge and the new airport terminal (both Santiago Calatrava).

Workers and immigrants live in the old part of the city, while the affluent crowd prefers the newer neighborhoods. The city is also famous for its soccer club, its nine-day Big Week festival, its extraordinary street sculpture, its port, and its parks. Bilbao, once industrial and businesslike, has become beautiful and original, which is now interesting and attractive to tourists.

General Info

  • City in Spain, founded in 1300.
  • It is the administrative center of the province of Biscay. The largest city of the Autonomous Community of Basque Country.
  • District (comarca): Gran Bilbao.
  • Administrative divisions: 8 districts.
  • Languages: Basque, Spanish.
  • Ethnic composition: Basques (not less than 90%, one third of them speak Basque), Spaniards – up to 5%, Bolivians (1,3%), Colombians (1,04%), Romanians (0,6%), Moroccans (0,6%).
  • Religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam.
  • Currency unit: euro.
  • The largest rivers: the Nervión, Ibaisabal, Kadagua.
  • Airport: international airport of Bilbao (passenger turnover exceeds 4 million).
  • Area: 40.65 km2.
  • Population: 353,187 (2010).
  • Population density: 8688.5 people/km2.
  • There are 127 registered nationalities, of which 60 have no more than 10 inhabitants.


  • GDP per capita: € 26.225 (2005).
  • Industries: shipbuilding, iron and steel (steel production), machinery, machine tools, aeronautics, electronics, information technology, chemical and oil industry (refinery).
  • Agriculture: gardening, plant growing. Fishery. Bilbao is important seaport in Spain.
  • Sphere of services: tourism, trade, financial, transport.

Climate and weather

  • Temperate. Maritime.
  • Average temperature in January: +8.7 ° C.
  • Average temperature of July: +21ºC.
  • Average annual rainfall: 1230 mm per year.


  • Guggenheim Museum (1997).
  • St. Jacobs Cathedral (III-XIX centuries).
  • Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Museum of Archeology, Ethnography and History of Basques.
  • The Church of San Nicolas de Bari (restored in the XVIIIth century from the plan of the XIVth century).
  • San Anton Bridge.
  • The statue of Don Diego de Aro.
  • Bilbao Airport Terminal (2000), architect S. Calatrava.
  • The Gecho District (palaces and mansions from 1800-1920).
  • The Church of San Antonio Abad (XV-XVII centuries).
  • The Iturrisa Park Doña Casilda.
  • The building of the City Hall (19th century).
  • Sanctuary of Our Lady of Begonia.
  • Church of Santa Maria de la Asunción (XVI-XV centuries) with a wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary – Nuestra Señora de la Antigua (XII century).
  • The Begoña district with the pilgrimage church (16th century).
  • Ensanche (new town).
  • Suspension arched pedestrian bridge Subisuri (XX century).

Fun Facts

  • In the city there is a famous soccer club Athletic Bilbao, which recruits players only from the Basques. On 8 2010 the club held a charity match, playing at the same time with 200 children. The children lost by a score of 3:5.
  • In Spain, the word “Allah,” which has stuck around since the Arab conquests, gradually morphed into “Ole,” which was shouted at bullfights and flamenco dances. And over time, “ole” became the soccer shouting “Ole-Ole-Ole.
  • The local buses are called bilbobus.
  • Basque cuisine is distinctive. Here they cook with a minimum of spices, but with the freshest products in a very original combination: hot octopus sandwiches, dessert from thickened sheep milk, sourdough in tall wooden barrels heated on hot rocks, soaked in wine fried apples, a sweet dish of nut milk … Traditionally, in the Basque Country culinary lovers are united in purely male communities – Sociedades Gastronomicas – with their own room for meetings and celebrations, which are also traditionally accepted only by men.
  • The Basques have a strong tradition of oral poetry, such as bertsolaria and canticles (pastorals). Everyone can test the power of his or her verse at the folk competitions in bertsolaria, which are regularly held in the Basque Country.
  • There is still debate about the origin of the name of the town: perhaps it is translated from Basque as “banks of two rivers” (just the Basques had a custom to name villages by their location) or the union of words denoting the river and the bay. There is a version that the current name was inherited by the city from two previous settlements on different banks of the river.
  • The Basques are the most ancient people of Western Europe. The Basque language (sounding a bit like Georgian or Armenian) is not included in any linguistic groups and is not related to any living language. At the same time it has 7 dialects and several sub-dialects. During World War II, the Americans, in addition to the widely used language of the Navajo Indians, who called themselves “wind-speakers” also sometimes used the Basque language to compose ciphers.
  • In the suburbs of Bilbao is the famous 1893 Biscayne Bridge, designed by Basque architect Alberto de Palacio, the first in the world made specifically to move both people and carriages in a high-suspended gondola. The Bridge of Biscay has served as a model for similar structures in other countries. Its height is 45 m and the span is 160 m. It was an advanced technology for the late 19th century.
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