You will find Bilbao, the capital of Biscay and the heart of the Basque Country, surrounded by a green landscape. With more than 300,000 inhabitants and a history that dates back to 1300, it was constructed as the largest and most cosmopolitan town in the Basque Country.
Bilbao is known as ‘Botxo’ by its inhabitants, who feel a deep pride for their city. That makes it a city with a host of its own unique emblems, such as the flagstones that adorn its pavements, typical pastries and a very particular dictionary of expressions and sayings that are used in all good conversations around Bilbao.
However, this pride goes back much earlier, to 1300, the year in which Diego López de Haro founded Bilbao. Then it was a city based on trade, the port, the weekly market and iron. It grew as a commercial city and the important economic nucleus of Biscay.
The economic and social dynamism persisted for centuries; bourgeois mansions and notable buildings started to be built. And although it changed hands several times, being occupied by Napoleonic troops and subsequently serving as the main stage for the Carlist wars, the spirit of Bilbao is rooted in its streets and has survived in history.
1870 triggered an unprecedented era of development, that served as a seed for its love of football, a passion, that even today, stronger than ever, still dresses the balconies of its streets on match days.
In 1890, this era brought a group of Englishmen to Biscayan ports, with a football in their warehouses. The place where they played their football is still known as “La Campa de los Ingleses” (the English compound) and that was where they taught the locals to play football.
Thus was born the other great pride of all good Bilbaoans in 1898, Athletic Club, a team with more than 100 years of history, a legendary stadium, recognised internationally and a unique philosophy, as it only has players who were born, raised or trained in the Basque Country.
While the red-and-white (the team colours) team spirit was being forged, an iron and steel industry emerged that radically transformed Bilbao into an industrial city. The city began to receive immigrants, who wanted to be part of the flourishing industry in Bilbao.
The expansion extended beyond the city, turning it dark and grey. Until, at the end of the 20th century, the iron and steel industry entered a deep crisis and the city was forced to rethink the bases of its economic development.
Thus arose the difficult challenge of transforming a radically industrial city and committing to new ways of economic and social development. The services sector and new technologies won the battle, regenerating Bilbao and turning it into a world leader.
The environmental and urban regeneration of Bilbao led to the industrial areas undergoing an extraordinary change and turned the Biscayan capital into a tourist destination. Today the great emblem of this “new Bilbao”, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is located in these areas, one of the main assets that has made this regeneration possible.
Without a shadow of doubt, these grand architectural and infrastructure projects have made urban and economic regeneration possible. It is a conversion which today is admired worldwide and seen by an increasing number of visitors and tourists.
The Euskalduna Conference and Music Centre, the metro conceived by Norman Foster, the airport devised by Santiago Calatrava and the towers designed by the architects Arata Isozaki and César Pelli are clear examples, among others, of the resounding vitality that Bilbao is breathing today after years of smoking chimneys topped by grey skies.
The future of Bilbao is promising. Its cultural offering is growing every year, hosting large events, conferences and national and international meetings. All this reflects the clear commitment to turning Bilbao and Biscay into a benchmark for the creative industries.
In addition, its elaborate cuisine, its bars full of pintxos (tapas) and the narrow streets in the old town create a pleasant atmosphere of leisure and contrasts between the old and the “new Bilbao”. A history that makes it irresistible, of course, for lovers of cities with history, charm and people like no other.