Bilbao is concentrated almost in its entirety along the meandering final stretches of the River Nervion, a ria, or drowned river estuary. The stretch the city occupies is a hollow surrounded by mountains which form a natural barrier, giving rise to the traditional name of the city: botxo, which means "hole" in the Basque language.
Bilbao was originally a fishing village on the banks of the ria, a key geographic feature in that it gave the city its raison d'etre and its importance. The ria has always been an excellent communication route between the sea and the inland area, and is navigable along most of its length. At present, commercial navigation - which still reaches as far up as the University of Deusto - is on the point of disappearing from the interior of the city. The numerous projects and urban planning alterations are progressively changing the physiognomy of the banks of the Nervion.
Industrial development, which grew from the profits made from the iron market, created wealth and employment for almost a century. In 1985, however, the city experienced a profound economic crisis which led to the advent of post-industrialism -the manufacturing worker ceased to be a central supporting figure for industry, and the new urban classes, connected with communications, culture and leisure, built on the ruins of the old shipyards.
At the beginning of the nineties Bilbao bounced back, and in a surprising manner: it was decided that a social change was needed, and this would begin with the construction of a museum. Close collaboration between the Basque authorities and the Guggenheim Foundation led to the creation of a new museum which would represent the current spirit of the city.
This building, designed by Frank О. Gehry, was not the only change, however: Norman Foster designed the plans for the renovation of Bilbao Metro, and there was the Zubizuri bridge, the Santiago Calatrava airport terminal, the Palace of Congress and the Palace of Music (by Soriano and Palacios) as well as the urban planning reorganisation carried out by Cesar Pelli.
All of these projects offer a new image of the city which attracts tourism, creates business opportunities and employment and which has, in short, turned Bilbao into one of the most emblematic cities in Europe, one which has a very bright future ahead of it.
Text in English