Why Visit Bilbao?
Bilbao, or the Botxo (Hole) as it has been affectionately nicknamed by its inhabitants, is a city being reborn. Gone are the symbols of its heavy industry past, to be replaced by one of Europe’s newest major art centres crowned by its shimmering silver fish, the Guggenheim. The architecture of Bilbao is a riot of styles, and the new blends with the old, as each neighbourhood proudly portrays its own character and history. The old town in particular, is a charming warren of bar-filled medieval streets. Furthermore, Bilbao is also the spiritual home of Basque culture with a wonderful array of monuments and sights. All in all, a pretty happening place.
Bilbao: the facts
Founded by the then lord of Biscay, Diego López V of Haro in the 14th century, the city eventually rose to become the capital of Biscay in 1602, an event that was followed by centuries of economic growth, fuelled by trade in Iron Ore with England and the Netherlands.
During the Carlist War it became one of the prominent battlegrounds as Carlist besiegers where thrice thrown back from the walls of the city. It was during this period that Bilbao underwent a dramatic period of industrialisation, making it one of the eminent economic powerhouses of Spain.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalist uprising was initially resisted, but an intense bombing campaign, augmented by German and Italian aircraft eventually broke its resistance and it fell to Nationalist forces in May 1937. What followed was a period of brutal repression against those that had taken up arms against the coup.
The Francoist period witnessed the birth in the city of the now infamous Basque separatist group ETA in response to the stifled calls for self-rule and Basque independence.
Since the transition to democracy, Bilbao has undertaken a project of de-industrialisation and the transition to a service economy as evidenced by investment in infrastructure and urban renewal. This is most notably seen in the construction of the Guggenheim Museum and the so-called ‘Bilbao Effect’.
Due to its proximity to the Bay of Biscay, Bilbao endures and Oceanic climate with rain falling throughout the year. Summers and winters are both mild with average maximum temperatures in the summer of 12°C – 26°C and in the winter 4°C – 14°C.
After the economic crisis of the 1980’s, Bilbao has relaunched itself as a service economy and is now home to a plethora of international companies and banking institutions. It is one of the richest areas of Spain and enjoys unemployment at a level vastly below the national average. The growth in tourism, particularly drawn by the new Guggenheim Museum, has also helped to expand the city’s finances.
Bilbao plays host to several theatre and concert halls and an opera season championed by the ABAO (Bilbao Association of Opera Lovers). The Bilbao Symphony Orchestra was established in the early 20th century and is one of Spain’s most important. Amongst the city’s art gallery, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao of contemporary art and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum and probably the most famous. The Bilbao BBK Live, rock & pop music festival, is an annual event exceeding 100,000 visitors and takes place on the slopes of Mount Cobetas to the south-west of the city.
Semana Grande (Big Week) is Bilbao’s principal city festival and begins on the 3rd Saturday in August and lasts for 9 days. Celebrations include strongman games, free music performances, street entertainment, bullfighting and nightly firework displays which attract over 100,000 people to the festivities.