Wine warehouse converted into a cultural space.
Interior of La Alhondiga
The Alhóndiga is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. What was once Bilbao’s wine warehouse, is today a cultural and leisure space with a wide variety of offerings: exhibitions, concerts, lectures, cinema, children’s workshops, gym, swimming pool, library, a place to have a coffee or eat lunch, etc and etc.
The Alhóndiga’s 43,000 m2 were used as the city’s wine warehouse until the 1970’s, when a new warehouse was built and the Alhóndiga was abandoned. It remained in a state of decay until a plan was settled on in the late 90’s. The French designer, Philippe Starck, took on the task of designing every detail of the complex. Today, only the façade of the original early 20th century building remains. This original exterior is contrasted with an entirely new interior space, which exemplifies the new modern face of Bilbao. Highlights of the building include its 43 columns, each of them with their own unique design, and a glass bottom pool that is viewable from the ground floor.
Why Bilbao is known as “el botxo.”
Park of Artxanda
The lookout of Artxanda offers the best views of the city of Bilbao. From there, you can see the Old Town, the Guggenheim Museum, the Iberdrola tower and all the hills that surround the city. Looking down from this point, it is easy to understand why the Bilbainos call their city the “botxo” (hole).
Although it is possible to walk or drive to the lookout of Artxanda, the easiest way to get there by is taking the funicular which is located at the Funicular Square, where the streets Castaños and Mugica y Butrón meet, very close to the Zubizuri bridge.
At the lookout point there is a small park which is a perfect place to go for a stroll and just get out of the hustle and bustle of the city for a while. Inside the park, you will find two sculptures. One of them is a massive gear from the original structure of the funicular. The other sculpture is a huge fingerprint called “Huella Dactilar” and designed by Juan José Novella in honor to the victims of the Spanish Civil War. The sculpture was placed in the park because the funicular station was bombarded during that war on the 18th of July, 1938.
The controversial bridge.
Inaugurated in 1997 and designed by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, this modern bridge, together with the Guggenheim Museum, became the symbol of the “new” Bilbao.
As its name indicates, the bridge is white (“zubi” means bridge and “zuri” white in Basque) and features a glass floor. It is characterized by its curvature, which together with the arch, creates a beautiful and interesting structure.
Unfortunately, the Zubizuri Bridge has been involved in multiple controversies. The first controversy occurred when the local government decided to add a platform at one end of the bridge to facilitate the direct access to some important buildings. The decision did not set well with the architect at all since it changed the appearance of his design. Calatrava sued the government over the change to his plan and eventually won the case.
But there was a second and more serious problem. With the rain – and Bilbao is known for having its fair share – the glass floor got extremely slippery and people were falling on the bridge. The situation was so bad that the government had to finally solve it by rolling out a carpet over the entire bridge, thus hiding the beautiful glass floor and the lights that lit the bridge up at night.
Although the bridge is not the same with the carpet covering the glass floor, at least it is now safe to cross. And, if it weren’t for these anecdotes, you would probably never remember it.
An art nouveau masterpiece.
Campos Eliseos Theater
From the outside, the Campos Eliseos Theater looks as though it would be better placed in southern Spain or even in a middle eastern country. However, the theater, which opened its doors in 1902, was designed by a local architect named Alfredo Acebal in cooperation with the French decorator Jean Batiste Darroguy. The prominent arch on the facade seems to be of moorish influence but upon further inspection, this exterior that was so richly decorated by Batiste, is very much art nouveau in style. Needless to say, this unique building is considered to be an important architecture reference from the Basque Country.
The first initial years of the theater were very successful. But the second half of the 20th century wasn’t so kind to the Campos Eliseos Theater. An attack by ETA in 1978 destroyed part of the interior. Afterwards the theater was plagued by a string of bad management. These problems forced the theater to close down on multiple occasions and saw the building deteriorate over the years.
Finally in 1991, the City Hall of Bilbao acquired the theater and the rehabilitation works started. The front facade was renovated in 1997 and its interior some years later. The rehabilitation works finished in 2010, when the theater was re-inaugurated. Today, it is the most technically advanced theater in Spain and is also home to an artistic and technological training center. Since September 2017, the company KLEMARK runs and operates the productions and events of the theater.
Impressive collection of medieval art.
Fine Arts Museum
The Bellas Artes Museum, while currently hiding in the shadow of the Guggenheim, is one of the finest museums in all of Spain. It houses an impressive collection of over 10,000 pieces of art, ranging from the 13th century to the present. The collection contains Spanish, Flemish, Italian and Dutch works in addition to an ample selection of work by local Basque artists.
The Bellas Artes Museum is located in a corner of the Doña Casilda Park, in the Abando neighborhood. The original Fine Arts Museum combined with the Modern Art Museum in 1945. In that year, the “old” building of the current museum was constructed, featuring a neoclassic style. Over the years the collection outgrew the building and in 1970 the construction of the “new” building was finished. This newer modern building was influenced by the architecture from Mies van der Rohe and contrasts with the “old” building, creating an interesting mixture.