Nestled between mountain ranges, the Basque city of Bilbao is considered the cradle of the Spanish metal industry, dominated by the beating rhythm of the blast furnaces. But the construction of the Guggenheim Museum gave the city a new lease of life.
Those who knew Bilbao as it used to be will remember the iron, the tall chimney of the Altos Hornos de Vizcaya ironworks – the largest company in Spain for many years during the 20th century – the container ships, and the enormous unloaders on the docks of the shipbuilding yards. That ended in 1993, when the groundbreaking ceremony for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao heralded a new era. The impressive building designed by starchitect Frank O. Gehry, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, amazed the world and changed the city for ever.
The museum was the starting point for a revival of the industrial metropolis. Bilbao was to remain one of Spain’s largest economic hubs, but also gained enormous artistic, architectural and touristic significance. The Basque city won countless awards, including the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2010, known as the Nobel Prize of Urbanism.
The domino effect of the Guggenheim
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao triggered further spectacular projects, such as the renovation of the waterfront along the Nervión River, which is now one of the city’s lifelines and an arena for sporting contests like the traditional Regatas de Traineras rowing regatta or the finals of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2014 and 2015. Starting from the river, the town gradually blossomed: The riverside was revived by building lovely promenades and redesigning the quays. Marzana Quay is now an ideal place to enjoy the new face of Bilbao and the views of the old town at the same time, with the newly restored Mercado de la Ribera, the bridge and the church of San Antón, dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The old town is home to a string of galleries and one of the best restaurants in town – Mina.
Directly opposite is one of Spain’s most renowned universities, the venerable Universidad de Deusto, and the bright red Carola crane, a testimony to the city’s industrial legacy. The huge crane, built between 1954 and 1957, is today part of the nautical and shipping museum Marítimo Ría de Bilbao and was the strongest machine of its kind in Spain in its day. With a lifting force of some 30 tons, Carola was used for building large ships.
Rendezvous for architects and designers
The banks of the Nervión River are not the only place where the work of famous architects and designers can be admired.