Bilbao was a dying city back in the 1970s. Once prominent in steel production, shipping and banking, it became saddled in economic crisis. Population was dwindling as the young opted to find jobs elsewhere. A new plan was devised towards its journey of rebirth. Old industrial complexes along the river Nervión were torn down and new projects to improve infrastructure and the overall growth of the city were started.
Bilbao now boasts having the Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry, a timeless Metro system designed by Sir Norman Foster, an airport from Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and a community center (Alhondiga) designed by Philippe Starck. It has become an open museum for modern art juxtaposed with the Old Heritage backdrop.
Today, Bilbao is sophisticated and humming with action; but at the same time is relatively stress-free. It is a successful mix of the new with the classic which all visitors will appreciate.
The Casco Viejo of Bilbao is also locally known as “las 7 calles” in Spanish, since these were the seven streets that formed the original medieval town. Today, it is still the heart of the city and probably its most colorful neighborhood. The beautiful narrow streets are mostly pedestrian-only and are packed to the brim with taverns offering tasty pintxos.
Next to the bridge linking the Casco Viejo with the Ensanche neighborhood, stands Bilbao’s oldest theater, Teatro Arriaga. It was named after the Basque composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, known as the “Spanish Mozart,” who died at 19. On our way back, we enjoyed a brisk walk by the Nervion River.
Bilbao deserves more than a day to appreciate. If I had a choice, I would have done the attached 36 hour self-tour of the city (NYTimes). Apart from the Guggenheim and the Casco Viejo, there is so much more to experience in this revitalised setting.