A lasting impression . . .

     The municipality of Bilbao (Bil-bow, as in the ‘bow of your boat') at the northern edge of the Iberian Peninsula is 16 kilometres from the Bay of Biscay. It covers an area of 40.65 square kilometres of which 17.35 square kilometres are urban. The official average altitude is 19 metres. Bilbao is a city in the north of Spain, and at 350,000 residents the largest in the province of Biscay and in the Basque Country. The Bilbao metropolitan area boasts approximately one million inhabitants. Bilbao is also the main urban area in what is defined as the Greater Basque region.

     Bilbao is situated in the north-central part of Spain, some 16 kilometres (10 mi) south of the Bay of Biscay, where the economic social development is located and where the estuary of Bilbao is formed. Its main urban core is surrounded by two small mountain ranges.

     Following the construction of the city’s foundation in the early 14th century Bilbao was a commercial hub that enjoyed significant importance, due to the export of iron ore extracted from the Biscayan quarries. Throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialisation.

     At the same time an extraordinary population explosion prompted the annexation of several adjacent municipalities. Today Bilbao is a vigorous service city, experiencing an ongoing social, economic, and aesthetic revitalisation, started by the iconic Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, and continued by infrastructure investments.

     Bilbao is also home to the Athletic Club de Bilbao, a significant symbol for Basque nationalism and one of the most successful clubs in Spanish football history.

     Bilbao was one of the first towns founded in the fourteenth century, during a period in which approximately 70% of the Biscayan municipalities were founded. On 21 June 1511, Queen Joanna of Castile ordered the creation of the Consulate of Bilbao. This would become the most influential institution of the borough for centuries.

     The first printing-press was brought to the town in 1577. Here in 1596, the first book in Basque was edited, entitled Doctrina Christiana en Romance y Bascuence by Dr. Betolaza.

     In 1602 Bilbao was made the capital of Biscay. The ensuing years saw a constant increase in the town's wealth after the discovery of extensive iron deposits in the surrounding mountains. Closing the 17th century, Bilbao overcame a national  economic crises, thanks to the mining and commerce with England and the Netherlands. The 18th century saw continued growth and threatened to exhaust expansion space. Despite 18th and 19th century warfare, Bilbao prospered during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries social movements also arose, notably Basque nationalism.

Sweet Iberian ham sandwiches . . .
Sweet Iberian ham sandwiches . . .

     The Spanish Civil War started in Bilbao with a number of small uprisings suppressed by the Republican forces. On 31 August 1936, the city suffered it’s first bombing. The following month, bombing by German planes occurred, in coordination with Franco's forces. In May 1937, the Nationalist army besieged the town. 

     Following the war Bilbao returned to its industrial development, accompanied by a welcoming population growth. In the 1940s, the city was rebuilt, starting with the bridges. In 1948, the first commercial flight from the local airport was recorded. Over the following 10 years there was a revival of the iron industry. 

     Since the mid-1990s, Bilbao has been in a process of deindustrialization and transition to a service economy, supported by investment in infrastructure and urban renewal, starting with the opening of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.


     We enjoyed lunch in Bilbao prior to leaving for San Sebastian, further along the coast. White wine, a plate of anchovies and baby squid with a sturdy Basque bread. It is noticeable that flavours change from establishment to establishment, and although quality is a constant, even quality has a score factor. Anchovies, for instance, are unbelievably different in flavour here as compared to North America, and noticeably different from where they are caught along the coast between Bilbao and San Sebastian, a relatively short distance.