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BILBAO, tradition and modernity

Arriving in Bilbao by air, we encounter the work of Santiago Calatrava: an airport in the shape of a bird. Nicknamed the Iron City because of its metallurgical and naval heritage over the last two centuries, today it is a tribute to architecture and art. When the industry went into decline, the Guggenheim Museum – designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997 – was the first step in revitalizing the abandoned container port. The building, in the form of a ship, conjures up the city’s past and its roots in the maritime industry with its Paseo de la Memoria along the estuary, and invokes the former port facility through the works of art. Designed by Javier López Chollet, it is an open-air museum with sculptures by Chillida, Anish Kapoor, Dali and Vicente Larrea, among others.

Today Bilbao is a enclave of the great names of world architecture, which can claim to be much more than just the Guggenheim Museum. This is no mean feat considering it all began with one museum designed by Frank Gehry. And in fact the building, which invokes a ship docked in the river, looks like a present anyone would be pleased to receive. The outer shell, made of titanium and stone, is a work of art in itself, surrounded by sculptures like Louise Bourgeois' giant spider or Jeff Koons' Puppy, a stainless steel terrier covered in flowers. Inside, the party continues with Richard Serra's imposing serpent and installation of a LED column by Jenny Holzer, addressing contentious issues such as gender discrimination, violence and power.














The space designed by Frank Gehry gave the initial impetus to the redevelopment of left bank of the river and other buildings soon followed. These include the Palacio de Congresos y de la Música Euskalduna and the new Library of the Jesuit University, designed by Rafael Moneo, and connected to it through the Pedro Arrupe footbridge, in the form of a dragonfly made of steel. The Torre Iberdrola, a 41-storey skyscraper with a heliport on top, comprises part of the city’s new hi-tech skyline. Of the old, the Carola survives, one of the original shipyard cranes now serving as a flagpole for the Museo Marítimo.

Crossing Doña Casilda Park, known as the duck park with its streetlights shaped like trees, you arrive at the Gran Via Diego López de Haro, the large avenue which crosses the city and is named after its founder. Here is the financial quarter, with international brands, and also some treasures that have lasted the course, such as the Gozotegia, a pastry shop which opened in 1852 and makes cakes in the colours of Bilbao Athletic Club. In this next mile or so, you move from the present to the past and come into Moyua Square, built in the nineteenth century, from where eight streets lead off, giving it a rather strange shape. Here you can also see the fosteritos, the metro stations designed by Norman Foster, in the shape of a snail.

On crossing Arenal bridge you come to the Casco Viejo neighbourhood, dating from the 14th century, where on the famous siete calles, you can find the oldest buildings in the city: the Gothic Cathedral of Santiago, dedicated to the patron saint of Bilbao, and the 18th century Baroque church of San Nicolas de Bari. Another highlight is the Plaza Miguel de Unamuno, with the Museo Vasco and next to it the Plaza Nueva, with the Academy of the Basque Language.

The collection of the present Bilbao Fine Arts Museum originated with the merger of the collections from the first Museo de Bellas Artes, inaugurated in 1914, and the Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) in 1924. Notable for the lengthy period it covers (from the 12th century to the present day) and the extraordinary variety of art works acquired since its inception, the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum collection currently boasts more than six thousand works including paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings and objects from the decorative arts.

Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall is a 53,000 m2 multi-purpose centre that stands in the heart of the city of Bilbao designed to host many different kinds of corporate, financial, institutional, social and cultural events. It is also the venue of the ABAO opera season, a major event in Spain and Europe and home to the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, a magnificent ensemble whose first concert dates back to 1922. The building offers a perfect co-ordination of areas open to the public such as its Auditorium, numerous halls, meeting and board rooms, offices, foyers, exhibition lobbies and services areas .

AlhóndigaBilbao houses one of the city's most representative buildings, a cultural and leisure space with a varied offering for everyone visiting it. A meeting point to share, learn and enjoy different cultural, leisure and sporting proposals, individually, in groups or as a family, which are suitable for all publics.The old and modernist wine warehouse, declared “Public Property of Cultural Interest” by the Basque Government in 1999, celebrates one hundred years since the restoration of facades and the interior transformation, which includes the creation of new areas under the supervision of French designer Philippe Starck.

The Arriaga Theatre was modelled on the Paris Opera House and opened in 1890. It is the work of architects Joaquín Rucoba and Octavio de Toledo. The building is named after the Bilbao-born composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga (known in his time as the "Spanish Mozart"), whose bust presides over the imperial staircase. The theatre has undergone various calamities over the course of its history, including a major fire after which it was rebuilt and re-opened in 1919. It offers a year-round programme of artistic activities, with theatre performances, opera, ballet, concerts, cultural events...

Las Siete Calles or Casco Viejo in Spanish, or Zazpikaleak or Alde Zaharra in Basque are different names for the medieval neighbourhood of Bilbao, part of the Ibaiondo district. The names mean Seven Streets or Old Town respectively and it used to be the walled part of the town until the end of the 19th century. The area is probably the most colorful part of Bilbao, including many shops and taverns, several historical churches (San Antón, Santos Juanes, the Cathedral, San Nicolás), the largest food retail market of Europe (Mercado de la Ribera), the public Arriaga Theatre, the seat of the Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia), a ball court, and a public library. It is connected to the rest of the city and conurbation by the subway, trainway and buses. There is a tradition of middle-age men doing a tavern crawl drinking short glasses (chiquitos) of wine and singing choral songs.

Bilbao, at only 16,5 kms

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The sea has shaped its character; the earth has given it natural beauty. The Basque Country – Euskadi (in our own language) is a green paradise of breathtaking landscapes interspersed by the turquoise of the Cantabrian Sea. Futuristic cities, sophisticated beaches, unexplored hills and valleys and an ancient culture still intact today.

The forest of OMA
(top photo)

The forest of Oma, one of Basque artist Agustín Ibarrola's best known works, is an example of "land art", a creative trend that first appeared in the 1960s and which seeks to take art to nature and use the countryside as the artist's frame, support and medium.

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