Capital of Vizcaya [Bizkaia] and founded by Don Diego Lopez de Vega in 1300, Bilbao sits astride the River Nervion [Nerbioi], which links it to the city's port a few miles north on the Bay of Biscay and, economically, the most important in Spain. Its development as a leading industrial centre started with shipments of iron ore to Britain in the 19th century and reached a peak a hundred years later with the development of copious iron and steelworks along the river's banks or squeezed into the narrow valleys around.
Jammed between the sea with its prevailing on-shore winds and the Sierra Cantabria, air and water pollution reached unacceptable levels during this period. The flood of workers flowing into Bilbao to meet employers' demands led to the construction of a multitude of ugly, red brick blocks of flats so that the city became increasingly unattractive and one, unless on business, that people wished to avoid.
In the 1980s Bilbao was dying and the City Burghers grasped the nettle and set about transforming the environment once again with some incredibly bold moves. The new Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Ghery, is the icon of these changes and should be visited if only for its architecture, but it is by no means alone. A stylish, new airport terminal, a revamped Concert Hall, the modern extension to the Fine Arts Museum, which has a very fine collection of masterpieces, new bridges across the river and a Metro system have revitalised Bilbao almost beyond recognition.
It was a vibrant hub of activity anyway, but the influx of visitors, both Spanish and foreign, has stimulated growth in the number of hotels, revitalised the city centre's bars, restaurants and shops and created a new and exciting atmosphere. The resurrection of Bilbao has been one of the most exhilarating city planning schemes of the late 20th century.