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Steel Glass & Art 21st Century Bilbao

Its industrial past well behind it, but true to its roots, Bilbao is today a modern, cosmopolitan city offering the finest cuisine, music and, in particular, art and architecture. Indeed, ever since the Guggenheim Museum opened to the public in the mid-1990s, the Basque capital has become a magnet for devotees of contemporary art and architecture. In tandem with the museum’s inception, the city saw an upsurge in urban renewal – historical constructions were restored, stunning modern buildings erected and the estuary precincts were integrated with green areas and the layout of a metro network, designed by the likes of Sir Norman Foster. Hence, Bilbao is currently one of Europe’s best cities to live in. Here, then, is our tour of its most groundbreaking museums and buildings.

Around the Guggenheim Museum

This monumental building designed by Frank O. Gehry is an icon of the transformed Bilbao and an international art and architectural yardstick. It is rewarding to saunter around the building and become enveloped in the curves on its facades, and in awe of the famous Spider by Louise Bourgeois, or the acclaimed Puppy by Jeff Koons. Venturing into its interior, however, is a unique experience. Wandering through the steel labyrinth of The Matter of Time, by Richard Serra, or visiting the noteworthy temporary exhibitions that pass through the Guggenheim, is something all art lovers should make a point of doing.

Near the museum stands La Salve Bridge. While is has been spanning the estuary since 1972, it was not until 2007 that the French artist Daniel Buren added its famous Red Arch. Also worth seeing and adjoining the Guggenheim is the New University of Deusto Library, by Rafael Moneo, with its monolithic volume and rounded corners.

Just behind it stands the Iberdrola Tower. Designed by César Pelli, this 41-storey, 165-metre-high tower with its dramatic appearance is the tallest building in the Basque Country. It is flanked by the Viviendas Ferrater housing project, two luxury buildings designed by Carlos and Lucía Ferrater, Xavier Martí and Luis Domínguez. Opposite them lies the Plaza de Euskadi, by the landscape architect, Diana Balmori.

The Museo de Bellas Artes – A Contemporary Classic

Located near the Plaza de Euskadi, opposite Doña Casilda Park, the Museo de Bellas Artes provides an enhancement to the great collections of classical European art with its selection of top-notch works, including a Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder and paintings by Francisco de Goya, El Greco and Zurbarán, while the contemporary section features paintings by Miquel Barceló and Francis Bacon. Here, you can actually travel from ancient times to the 21st century. To cater for such a variety, the building, originally dating from 1945, was upgraded incrementally, leading to its current appearance. The latest renovation has endowed both the exterior and interior with a leading-edge look. It dates from from 1996, when Luis María Uriarte opened new spaces and added the structure and glass foyer which now provide access to the museum.

Strolling Along the Estuary

The ría, once a dark, polluted estuary, was converted into one of the recreational areas of choice for Bilbao’s residents. Part of this upgrade is due to the Isozaki Atea (Isozaki Gateway) project, an ensemble of seven buildings designed by the Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki, in collaboration with the Bilbao architect, Iñaki Aurrekoetxea. Opposite this precinct stands the Zubizuri Bridge, Santiago Calatrava’s contribution to Bilbao, although also the most controversial landmark in the city.

The Alhóndiga and Osakidetza

Venturing into Bilbao’s Ensanche district will inevitably lead visitors to the Azkuna Zentroa or Azkuna Centre, better known as the Alhóndiga, a former wine exchange which has now been converted into a vibrant hub of leisure and culture. Originally completed in 1909 to a design by Ricardo Bastida, it was innovative for its time on account of the architect’s use of such materials as reinforced concrete. Following an overhaul assigned to architect Philippe Starck, it re-opened to the public in 2010 as a multi-purpose centre.

A short distance away, you get the impression of suddenly having stepped into the heart of Europe  when confronted by the Osakidetza (Public Health building), unmistakeable for the polyhedral design of its facade, by Juan Coll-Barreu.

Before leaving Bilbao, be sure to visit the city’s metro which, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is said to be one of the best in the world.

Book your Vueling to Bilbao and delight in its museums and magnificent buildings.

Text and images by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

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