<< Bilbao in Metro

Travel through the urban architecture of Bilbao

The breath-taking Guggenheim Museum or the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Music Hall.

San Mames Station.

There is no better way to start your visit than at San Mamés Station, the heart of the transport centre where the bus, rail, underground and tram lines of the city all meet. Metro Bilbao is a quick, safe, convenient and new way to travel, which does not compete with other routes, but which provides a backbone to support the system. This has always been the Metro Bilbao goal. You should therefore begin your visit at San Mamés station, where the bus, railway and tramway all meet thanks to the Metro. This is a city that has developed linearly, with one extension spreading upstream along the river and two large braches stretching to the sea along the two banks of the river estuary. This plan formed a “Y” shape that would meet all the major needs. 

With regard to the stations, the fundamental planning idea was an underground network close to street level, with direct and easy access, with sizeable stations, with all the services accessible, and with high vaulted ceilings, where no one would feel closed in. Sir Normal Foster designed this cavern architecture. The emphasis was on originality, simplicity and effectiveness. The Bilbao metro is the perfect example of engineering and architecture working together.

There are basically three materials used in the construction and architectural design: concrete, stainless steel and glass. 

The halls and mezzanines hang from the roof of the station itself, creating the sensation of very light structures when they are solid and resistant in reality.

The entrance and exit pergolas, nicknamed by the local people as “Fosteritos” in tribute to their designer, are glass gems that add the finishing touch to the entrance tunnel. At night they shine with artificial light as a work of art in themselves and they are semi-transparent during the day, provide protection from the rain and involve minimum maintenance. They are a symbol of the metro that are immediately identifiable.

Leave the station and make your way down Calle Sabino Arana to the square known as Plaza Sagrado Corazón, cross the square and the Doña Casilda park until you reach the Euskalduna Conference Centre.

The Euskalduna Jauregia Conference Centre and Music Hall is a very unusual building designed by its architects, Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios, as a ship that is permanently being built, emerging from a dry dock on the site of the former Euskalduna shipyard. It is clearly a tribute to the metal industry and shipbuilding tradition of Bilbao River Estuary, to the shipyards that were to be found there down through the years.

This building therefore evokes nostalgia among the older residents while young people consider it one of the iconic elements of the development of Bilbao. The ship building is made out of Corten steel that has a low carbon content stands out. Its main characteristic is that there is a compact and waterproof thin layer of rust over the surface that strengthens the resistance to atmospheric corrosion.

A stunning promenade, the symbol of the recovery of Bilbao, starts here and follows the Abandoibarra Avenue. This landscaped route is dotted with sculptures of the ilk of “Dodecathlos” by Vicente Larrea, “The Muse of the Dance” by Salvador Dalí, “Sites and Places” by Ángel Garraza or “Begirari” by Eduardo Chillida, which provide a taster as you make your way to the majestic Guggenheim Museum, the work of Frank O. Gehry.

The Guggenheim Museum is a magnificent example of the avant-garde architecture of the 20th century. Its 24,000 m2, 11,000 of which are used for exhibition, make up a masterpiece of architecture and design.

The building is noted for its twisted and curvy shapes and consists of a series of interconnected volumes, some of which are orthogonal in shape covered by limestone and others more organic, covered by a titanium metal skin, which covers large areas of the building like fish scales. They are half a millimetre thick and which make the building look rough and even more attractive if that is possible. These volumes are connected by glass curtain walls that add transparency to the whole building.

In short, Gehry’s work creates a spectacular and highly visible structure, achieving a sculpture presence against the backdrop of the La Salve Bridge, the River Estuary, the buildings of the centre of Bilbao and the slopes of Mount Artxanda. 

Guarding the Guggenheim Museum, there is a beautiful flowery puppy by the entrance called Puppy, the sculpture by Jeff Koons, which is a 12.5 metre high terrier puppy covered with flowers.

After crossing the Alameda de Mazarredo and continuing along Calle Iparraguirre, you will reach Plaza San José, the square when you should turn left along Colón de Larreategui and then take the first street on the right to Alameda de Recalde 34. The building you are facing is the “Montero”, designed by Jean Batiste Darroquy in 1901.

The Montero house is a extremely fine example of art nouveau. Darroquy designed a Neo-Rococo façade of naturalist inspiration, with plant details along with multi-colour and curvy ironwork. Special mentioned should be made of the entrances with their wrought work, the gateway and handrail of the steps, which are marvellous Modernist pieces of decoration.

Another stunning modernist work by this architecture from Saint Jean de Luz, is the Campos Theatre located at Calle Bertendona nº 3. If you take this slight detour, you will find one of the most outstanding examples of that movement. Special mention should be made of the horseshoe arch with Arab influences, a curved main item that is so characteristic of Modernism.

Retrace your steps and then continue along the Alameda de Recalde, until you come to “La Alhóndiga”.

This building has undergone a major transformation process and is now one the most iconic for the people of Bilbao. The wine warehouse designed by Ricardo Bastida in 1909 is now a bustling culture and recreational centre. Its 43 columns in the central atrium of the building is worthwhile seeing. Lorenzo Baraldi, the Italian set designer, was commissioned to decorate the 43 media, each of which represent different cultures and moments in history. Thus, the wood depicts China, the terracotta the Renaissance in Florence, the stone the Baroque, brick the Middle Ages and steel represents the contemporary world.

After leaving the La Alhondiga and continuing along the Alameda de Urquijo, you will come to the Indautxu Metro station. Take the metro and go to Abando station.

Abando Station

Leave the Abando Station by the exit to the Gran Vía de Bilbao and you will come to a circular square presided by Don Diego López de Haro. a bronze sculpture on an Ereño marble pitch. Don Diego, Lord of Biscay, holds in his hand the founding charter of the city, also known as the town charter. Produced by Mariano Benlliure, the sculpture from Valencia, in 1889, the statue stands 12 metres high on the marble pedestal.

You should now to carry on from here to explore the Bilbao old town. Continuing on foot along Calle Navarra, you will go past buildings as unique as La Bilbaina and then turn right along the street and you will come to the FEVE train station or the La Concordia station. Also known as the Santander Station, it is a unique building in the Modernist style built in 1902. Its façade is noted for a large rose window typical of the Belle Époque which is worth seeing.

Make your way back the way you came and cross the Arenal Bridge, and as you walk along you will go past the Arenal Park with its kiosk in the Rationalist style designed by Pedro Ispizua in 1928 and the Arriaga Theatre on the right. This theatre designed by Joaquín Rucoba in 1890 is in the style of the Second Empire and it is highly influenced by the theatre of the Paris opera house. In order to build it, the neighbours of the Calle Bidebarrieta first had to be convinced as they were frightened that the building, larger than the previous one, would block the fresh air at street level and be an obstacle for trade and the docks on the estuary bank. The architectures had to change the orientation of the building. After 5 years of work and a million of the old pesetas, the theatre was opened on 31 May 1890. The electric lighting chose for the occasion amazed the local resident who could follow the performance by telephone for the reasonable price of 15 pesetas.

This theatre was partially destroyed in 1914 as the result of a fire that also damage the archives of the theatre.. The architect Federico Ugalde was commissioned to rebuild the theatre and he made the new building larger and safer. 

Go round the Arriaga Theatre and continue along the Ribera until you come to the Ceres building near to the Merced Bridge. The former Ceres flour factory is a highly interesting example of industrial architecture, as it was the first building in Spain to have a structure completely made out of reinforced concrete. 

This is where your tour finishes and you should now take time to stroll through the streets of the old town. The Ribera market, the Church of San Antón or the Cathedral of Santiago are buildings really worth taking time to visit.