As everyone knows, our planet was created from an embryonic Bilbao, that began to grow and grow gaining the ability to harbour more and more minerals, vegetables, animals and Bilbaínos who marvelled at Bilbao’s beauty and also, of course, their Athletic Club.
Once told the inevitable and affectionate joke from Bilbao, we propose a quick historical and joint vision of this great city, which within its walls welcomes more than 900,000 inhabitants.
It all started in a green and humid valley, in which multiple layers of sediments were deposited and dragged down the mountain, from the waters of a brief but transcendental river which headed over the Cantabrian sea, forming a beautiful and natural landscape, which today is barely visible and of which we are going to develop our brief story.
It looks like the singularity of this place was not appreciated from any of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Celtic or Romans. Their loss…, the only things they looked for was profitable minerals and mass trade, so they passed by our city and by doing so our history too. This was not an impediment for the first inhabitants of the area (the first Bilbainos, since the original name vanished in the night of the lost times and languages) to settle down, as it seems, on the right bank of the Nervion estuary. They built a small and well-sheltered harbour, a few houses, some of them fortified with towers and a church dedicated to Santiago, perhaps in honour of the road that led, through the village, to the tomb of the saint.
Years and centuries passed by until we reach the year 1300 of our era, when Don Diego Lopez de Haro, in the name of Castilla´s Crown, grants the founding charter to the villa and from that moment it gets the privilege (shared along with other coastal cities) to negotiate with wool that came from the plateau and was shipped to the Netherlands, Great Britain and the Baltic countries. With this comes the first economic take-off and the first transformation of the city.
Little, close to nothing, is left of the primal city of late medieval Bilbao; Santiago’s Cathedral, Beteluri’s bank (which was also used as an open court for the citizens) or the trace of the ¨seven streets¨, the centre of a small city already in process of formation and transformation; something that will accompany the villa throughout its history.
It would be safe to say that under the stones, cobblestones and traffic lights of these seven original streets (Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carniceria Vieja, Barrencalle and Barrencalle Barrena) you would find a great part of Bilbao´s lost history, but the weather, the floods and the continuous architectural transformations make barely recognizable the appearance of that Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque village.
To stroll through the narrow and straight pedestrianized streets, enjoying its layout, its shops, bars and restaurants can be a wonderful tribute to the part of history lost and also to ourselves.
And thus, time and history continue their course and a new transformation is centred, on this occasion, on the opposite bank of the estuary (on the left hand side). The iron that came from the mountains that formed the green valley on which the city had settled, began to give its commercial fruits in the middle of an industrial revolution…Oh fortune!
And the new city, on the other side of the bank, was filled with pompous ¨Belle Epoque¨ buildings; the Palace of the Diputacion, the central Bilbao-Vizcaya bank, the Palace of the Chavarri, the Eliptica square or Deusto´s Univesity. Great fortunes and grand and remarkable buildings that created the second last Bilbao, the Bilbao del Bocho (the hole), the one of the coal and the iron, the one with the shipyards and the Altos Hornos (blast furnaces).
When everything seemed to have taken its flow, times changed again. With them the city. The heavy industry is finished with and the doors to the financial and technological city are opened. None of the large and heavy structures, the new Bilbao is the fresh air of the parks and promenades, the one with the Isozaki Towers, The Euskalduna Palace and the retired crane Carola reminding us of its past of labour and heavy industry, the sliding catwalk of Moneo and above all, the Bilbao of the Guggenheim.
This is a first approach to Bilbao. Contemplating from its history how a city is able to reinvent itself, to be born, to die and to be born again. There is a lot more, practically everything, to see and to tell. It’s a long and pleasant walk in which we will accompany you, with a thousand details and new stories, any time you like… There is so much to see!