Bilbao: From Provincial Town to Art Star

January 30, 2012 by

Sightseeing, Things To Do, Top Attractions, Tours & Activities

Bilbao's Guggenheim museum is a work of art unto itself. Photo courtesy of Chris via Flickr.

Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum is a work of art unto itself. Photo courtesy of Chris via Flickr.

Established in the 14th century, Bilbao developed into a port industrial town during the 19th and 20th centuries, growing in population but perhaps not in status. All that changed in the late 1990’s when the Guggenheim foundation decided to build an art gallery in Bilbao.

Now the city is a magnet for art lovers, and is dominated by the modern building designed by Frank Gehry and hailed by other architects as ‘the greatest building of our time.’ The Guggenheim people are well-known for their museums in New York and Venice, and a new gallery is planned for Abu Dhabi in 2013.

The Bilbao gallery features both permanent and temporary exhibitions by Spanish and international artists. Around it, as you’d expect, associated creative industries, restaurants and cafes are springing up, although Bilbao will never exactly be New York or Barcelona. The nearby Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is also gaining a good reputation for its exhibitions of Spanish and Basque artists.

Bilbao is in northern Spain, adjacent to the Bay of Biscay. It’s the largest city in Basque Country, a proud region of Spain which has had some autonomy since 1978 and its own language, although the official language is still Spanish. The city has a lovely outdoor market with excellent food, as you’d expect in Spain. But as usual it’s the transport that sells me on the place: a funicular. The Artxanda Funicular is not long but it leads up to some lovely views and there’s a nearby restaurant and a lovely walk back down the hill. The main reason to visit Bilbao really is for the Guggenheim, but there are a few other things to grab your attention also.

-Philippa Burne

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