Note: This building was demolished many years ago so it is not possible to visit it.
You’ve probably heard before of someone call Mozart. And you have probably heard of the opera “The Marriage of Figaro”. But, what does that have to do with this place in Bilbao between Ribera Street and Santa Maria Street?
The truth is that the relation between them is a little forced, but it will serve us to present you with an exciting story. You see: Wolfgang Amadeus’ Figaro was inspired by a theatrical comedy written by a Frenchman called Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who apart from being a play writer was also a watchmaker, a speculator, a harp teacher, a spy and who knows how many other things.
The thing is that the adventurous and womanising Beaumarchais visited the Spanish lands in 1764. He did it for a confrontation about a woman, but this time it wasn’t his woman. The fact is that a particular Spanish gentleman had left his sister waiting at the altar and therefore her little French brother came ready to fix things up. But Beaumarchais was a practical guy, so he took advantage of the justice-seeking trip to get in touch with the Court and see if he could get something out of there.
He had to wait a few years for them to remember him. Around the year 1776, France and Spain were deciding what position to take in a dispute with the American revolutionaries who had turned cocky towards the perfidious Albion. And Beaumarchais, who was wondering around Parisian theatres, was ordered to send the rebels gunpowder, uniforms and some other things, all in absolute secrecy and under a commercial cover called Roderigue, Hortalez and Company.
But Carlos III, who wanted the defeat of the English enemy and put a lot of money in that undercover support, also wanted to take action from Spain. To do so, he turned to Diego de Gardoqui, a man from Bilbao whose family business had plenty of experience in international trade, and who also spoke perfect English. Gardoqui acted as translator in a series of secret encounters with the American rebellion, and through his company, they crossed over the ocean mountains of armament and ammunition that would be decisive for the triumph of the revolutionaries and the formation of the United States.
The gratitude of the newly released Americans to Gardoqui was so great that the doors of the new nation were wide open for the Bilbao man. He settled luxuriously near George Washington’s mansion and was present at his inauguration as President in 1789, in the then small city of New York.
Diego, in whose honour there is a statue in Philadelphia, still had time to meet, before he died, another character of some historical importance: a short and distrustful Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte, who, a little later, would give lots to talk about.