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Bilbao History, Spain

The city of Bilbao is the capital of Biscay, a province of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Bilbao, with its surrounding lush hills, is quite different from the dryness of the southern regions of the country. Bilbao is a large city and the most important commercial and cultural centre of the Basque Country, an autonomous community in Spain, and not a province, as some might believe. Bilbao is a popular tourist destination thanks to its lively nightlife and interesting historical and cultural attractions. The rich history of the city has produced many historical sites that are considered part of the national heritage, and are literally magnets for tourists. This Bilbao History Guide briefly presents the major historical events that shaped the city’s past.

Bilbao History Guide - Foundation and early history

Originally, Bilbao was a small fishing village on the bank of Nervion River. The Bilbao we known today was founded over seven centuries ago, in 1300, by Don Diego Lopez de Biscay, on the opposite river bank from the village, nowadays called Bilbao la Vieja, or Old Bilbao. Although historical evidence shows that the city was founded on June 15 1300, recent archaeological finds point out that a settlement has existed on the site of modern day Bilbao since the 12th century. Don Diego Lopez built the city according to the usual design of other Basque cities: three parallel streets. However, the city developed at a fast pace, and the historical district is known under the name of “Seven Streets”. In the 14th century, the city was ravaged by several floods and a fire, and the city’s famous Santiago Cathedral was almost destroyed more than once. This Bilbao History Guide recommends that you visit the cathedral for more detailed information about the early history of the building. In the 16th century, Bilbao was a major wool and ironwork exporter in Europe

Bilbao History Guide - 17th to 21th century

At the very beginning of the 17th century, Bilbao officially became the capital city of the region of Biscay. Despite the economic crisis that affected Spain in the 17th century, Bilbao continued to flourish and to grow into one of Spain’s most important commercial centres, thanks to its wool and iron-work trade with the British Isles and with the Netherlands. The 18th and 19th centuries passed peacefully, and the economic development of Bilbao continues undeterred. By the beginning of the 20th century, Bilbao had begun to specialize in new industrial branches: shipbuilding and mining. This extraordinary progress made Bilbao the richest city in all of Spain, richer even than the capital city of Madrid or Valencia. During the Spanish Civil War, the Basque Country began to assert its autonomy. Despite the city’s defensive wall an heavy artillery, Franco’s troops was occupied Bilbao. Bilbao’s industry was a great source of income for Franco’s regime, and many Spaniards moved to Bilbao to work. Nowadays, Bilbao is making efforts to become a tourist city and to put less emphasis on its industry.

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