Icons for Biscay: modernity, quality of life, nature & tradition
Biscay is a byword for modernity, quality of life, nature and tradition. It is a unique territory: with a surface area of just 2200 km2, comparable to that of Luxembourg, it is home to such icons of modernity as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao but also to a unique natural setting with beaches and mountains, a highly active cultural and sporting life and traditions that make its stand out from the rest of the world.
Discover some of the icons of Biscay!
Biscay is a byword for modernity, with state-of-the art facilities
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is a magnificent example of cutting-edge 20th century architecture. With a total surface area of 24,000 m2, including 90,000 m2 of exhibition space, the building is an architectural landmark thanks to its bold configuration and innovative design, which provides a captivating backdrop for the art on show within it.
Gehry's overall design has resulted in a spectacular, sculptural structure that is perfectly integrated into the layout of the city of Bilbao and its surroundings.
Euskalduna Jauregia – Palacio Euskalduna
Euskalduna Jauregia – Palacio Euskalduna S.A. is a convention centre and concert hall complex run as a publicly owned company by the Provincial Council of Biscay.
It was designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios to be reminiscent of a ship under construction. This is a reference to the fact that it stands on a site previously occupied by the Euskalduna shipyards. The complex won the Enric Miralles Award in 2001 at the 6th Spanish Architecture Biennial.
It is a major, multi-purpose complex covering an area of 58,200 m2 into our city centre, with excellent connections to and from the airport.
It hosts a wide range of financial/business, academic, political, institutional, social and cultural events.
Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC)
The Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC) is one of the world's most modern trade-show complexes in terms of designand amenities.
Built with no architectural barriers or obstacles and an average ceiling height of 18 m, the BEC offers 150,000 m2 of exhibition space distributed across six open-plan exhibition halls that make stand set-up and tear-down an easy task.
The complex also boasts other major venues such as the multi-purpose Bizkaia Arena, which can hold 20,000 people, and the 18,000 m2 BEC Convenciones congress centre, plus parking for 4000 vehicles.
Azkuna Zentroa – Alhóndiga Bilbao
Azkuna Zentroa - Alhóndiga Bilbao is Bilbao's centre for contemporary culture and society. It is designed to have an outlook that is both local and international, open to dialogue with different communities and audiences.
This cultural centre is based in the city's former central wine and oil warehouse, a modernist style building dating from the turn of the 20th century. Its classical exterior contrasts sharply with the sober, urbane, highly original interior produced by French designer Philippe Starck. Azkuna Zentroa - Alhóndiga Bilbao seeks to connect society with contemporary culture via programmes in six areas: contemporary art, live arts performances, cinema and audiovisual media, society, digital culture and literature.
Landako Gunea is a modern, versatile, open-planned venue with secure parking and a broad range of services that can host a wide range of events. Every year this 4200 m2 venue hosts fairs, cultural festivals (including particularly the Azoka Basque book and record fair), musicals, exhibitions, concerts and other events, drawing over 50,000 visitors per year.
It stands in a spectacular setting in Durango (chief town of the Durangaldea supramunicipal district).
The setting boasts not only a number of interesting historical buildings and monuments but also areas of incomparable natural beauty such as the Urkiola Natural Park.
Icons of Biscay in the field of sports
Biscay has an infrastructure capable of catering for sporting events with an international impact. Venues such as the San Mamés Stadium, the Frontón de Biscay pelota court and the Bilbao Arena host major sporting events.
The San Mamés stadium
The old San Mamés stadium, home of Athletic, a football club with a history dating back over a century, was a footballing landmark. It earned an international reputation as a legendary venue and a nick-name that has gone down in history: the Cathedral.
100 years after the original stadium was built in 1913 the current stadium opened on the same site. The new stadium strives to maintain the traditions of the old San Mamés in terms of its atmosphere and its respect and passion for football, while at the same time providing modern, accessible, comfortable facilities of the standard expected nowadays.
With its 53,331 seating capacity, it was designed to meet the stringent Elite category standards set by UEFA. It won the awards for the world's best sporting building at the 2015 World Architecture Festival and venue of the year 2017 at the World Cup football Summit. In 2018 it hosted the finals of the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup, Europe's top club rugby tournaments. San Mamés has also been selected by UEFA as one of the 12 venues for the Euro 2021 tournament.
The Frontón Bizkaia court
The Frontón Bizkaia building is a large, plain but impressive building redolent of all the solemnity that surrounds the Basque sport of Pelota. This great, monolithic black building is a real landmark in the cityscape of Bilbao. Inside, it features broad, open spaces contrasted with narrow passages. It was designed to give spectators an experience that goes beyond merely attending a sports event.
Visitors walk through a discontinuous interior landscape whose few divisions nevertheless separate the various rooms. The sobriety of the exterior contrasts with the geometrical complexity of the building's interior, resulting from the use of inclined planes for seating and preferential use of natural light and colour.
The Bilbao Arena sports hall
The Bilbao Arena sports hall is a 30,808 m2 complex containing multi-purpose sports venues including a pool and gymnasia built for the residents of the Miribilla district of Bilbao. Its courts can host up to 3 different events at the same time.
The central court is the home of Bilbao Basket, the city's basketball team. It seats 8500 and can be used for a wide range of entertainment events when it is not required by the team.
The Bilbao Arena in Miribilla is blended into the surrounding area by the use of building materials based on its natural surroundings. The stone used is intended to be reminiscent of the output of the local mine, the last gallery of which closed down in 1995, and the support beams used throughout the building and the exterior decoration recall the wooded areas of this district of Bilbao.
Tourism in Biscay
Tourism in the region boasts some top worldwide attractions. Some of Biscay's tourist icons, such as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the Urdaibai marshes and Gorbeia, leave a lasting impression on first-time visitors.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a must for anyone visiting Biscay. This spectacular islet is off the coast in Bermeo, 35 km east of Bilbao. It is cone-shaped, and topped at 150 m above sea level by a plainly decorated chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist. There are two theories as to the origins of its name in Basque: gaztelu-aitz (“castle outcrop”) and gaztelu-gache (“difficult castle”).
It is a unique spot, surrounded by cliffs, islands and unspoiled beaches between the towns of Bakio and Bermeo and close to the Urdaibai biosphere reserve. It is possible to visit the whole stretch of coastline from Bakio to Bermeo and Mundaka in a single day.
The marshes of Urdaibai
The Urdaibai marshes are the biggest wetland in the Basque Country, and the most important in terms of habitat diversity. They are also a major stopover point for migrating birds.
In 1984 the area was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The reserve as a wealth of flora and fauna, with a great many different species together in a small area including peacocks, herons and Scandinavian ducks, which can be watched from the Urdaibai Bird Centre, a living museum focused on the migratory birds that pass through the area. Lovers of the environment, bird-watching, history and art will all find something to interest them in Urdaibai.
Urdaibai has been classed as an SPA (Special Protection Area) for birds since 1994 and also forms part of the Natura 2000 Network.
The name "Urdaibai" comes from the Basque words ur ("water") and ibai ("river"). The area is a natural paradise at the mouth of the river Oka, with a total surface area of 230 km2. Along with its beautiful coastline, it also boasts the untamed inland mountainous landscape of Kortezubi. Visitors can also take a look at the marks left by the ancient inhabitants of the Santimamiñe Caves, which date back to 13,000 BC.
In Urdaibai there are many outdoor activities available, including trekking, mountain biking, sea sailing trips, kayaking and bird-watching.
Mount Gorbeia and its natural park
At 1482 m above sea level, Mount Gorbeia is the highest peak in Biscay. It epitomises the tradition of hill walking in Biscay, based on a love of outdoor activities and respect for the environment.
It stands on the frontier between Biscay and Álava, offers fine views of the whole Gorbeia natural park and is topped by a 17m-high cross. There are several paths to the summit, which have made it a favourite with hill walkers in Biscay.
The Gorbeia massif is an area imbued with great meaning for the people of Biscay. It forms part of the so-called "Basque Mountains" and has close links to the history of Biscay. It is one of five beacon hills from which fires and horns once called delegates to the General Assembly of Biscay.
The beauty of the landscape, its cultural significance and the affection with which local people regard this natural park have made it a hub for rambling, hill-climbing, abseiling, potholing, mountain biking and horseback trekking. A broad network of well-signposted paths makes it easy to cross, and there are two interpretation centres for visitors.