sights uncovered
Travel with Tessa

Bilbao – Basque Country

On a late autumn morning flooded in sunshine, we crossed the Nervión River via Puente de La Salve/ Bridge into the city of Bilbao, which lies cradled by the green mountains of Basque Country. The banks of the river below the bridge were once a vibrant port and industrial waterfront, and the city’s leading source of revenue. Time saw the decline of the area into a run-down, derelict eyesore.

The Guggenheim Museum of modern and contemporary art designed by the uniquely talented architect Frank Gehry, was the primary force in a drive by the city leaders and its citizens, to revitalize Bilbao.
The breathtaking design of the museum and the renovation of the riverside location under the keen aesthetic eye of Gehry had the desired effect. In essence, it completely transformed the city and put Bilbao on the tourist map as a ‘must-see’ destination when visiting Spain.

The Guggenheim rests on the banks of the river wrapped in glass, limestone, and titanium plates. The early morning light lit up the tips of the titanium panels, which glisten and continuously change color and form, depending on the light and time of day. The textures, shadows, and shapes – several of which resemble the bows of the boats that one plied the river, are sheer Gehry architectural design genius.

On the opposite side of the river, residential buildings are fronted by an avenue of trees, which in the fall were ablaze in red leaves that cast their mirror image into the river.

One can spend hours wandering the banks of the river admiring the outdoor sculptures, the bridges, the street art, the creative blend of the ancient with the new, and the views of Gehry’s masterpiece from every angle.
A massive bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture of a spider by the artist Louise Bourgeois demands attention and contemplation. Titled Maman (Mother), it is a superb example of Bourgeois’ creativity born of her life experiences. The sculpture expresses the multi-faceted nature of parent-child interaction and represents the complex, protective, and loving but sometimes tempestuous and scary relationship that the sculptor had with her mother.

Walk along the river and discover the towering bronze outline of a gentleman. He stands a distance from his silhouette on the grassy embankment with his hands in his pockets. It makes for a fun photo prop for locals and tourists alike.

The bridges along the Nervión River are works of art, and not to be missed. Take the walkway from the Guggenheim and climb the steep winding steps to the red archway of Puente de la Salve. The first bridge in Spain to be built using a cable system, it linked the suburbs to the city center. The view from there is sweeping and a great photo opportunity.

Underneath Puente de La Salve

Continue along the river and notice the creative melding of historical buildings with contemporary and modern architectural structures.

The facade of an historic building surrounded by modern red buildings.

View the pedestrian Zubizuri Footbridge (Basque for ‘white bridge’), from the riverside walkway, then cross the bridge and enjoy how the lines, curves, and shapes of the bridge – built to resemble a sailboat – keep changing.

Take note of the old-world, elegant architecture of several of the buildings that line the river, and of course the views of Gehry’s masterpiece from this viewpoint.

Several visual artistic treats are still to be discovered. The monumental murals beneath Puenta de La Salve are fantastic.

The third bridge of note is Pasarelo Pedro Arrupe, a pedestrian bridge that links the Universidad de Deusto, founded in 1886 to the Abandoibarra walkway. It resembles a stainless-steel dragonfly and is finished in rich, coffee-colored, Lapacho wood, which has been treated to prevent pedestrians from slipping. To fully appreciate the beauty of this bridge, walk across, then view its exquisite lines from below. It’s impressive at all times, but especially at night when the lights twinkle, and the bridge is reflected in the water.

If you are a fan of Gehry’s work, and if you visit Los Angeles-California, don’t miss the Walt Disney Concert hall on Bunker Hill. Guggenheim – Bilbao opened in 1997, The Disney Concert Hall in 2003. Its stainless-steel exterior reminds one of Bilbao. When the tiles catch the sunlight, they change color, which is particularly breathtaking at sunset. The hardwood paneled auditorium is not only beautiful to behold but has the most extraordinary acoustics. If it’s concert season, don’t miss attending a concert at this spectacular venue.

Walt Disney concert hall. Los Angeles – California

Guggenheim Bilbao – Spain