Bilbaoâ€™s Old Quarter, the Heart of the City Although the most avant-garde faĂ§ades and business buildings in Bilbao are to be found in the district of Abandoibarra, the city has paid no less attention to any of its other areas and niches. With the open wound left by the industrial restructuring of the late 1970s which reached a head when the Ibaizabal-Nervion River breached
its banks causing severe flooding in all of Old Bilbao on 26th August 1983. Even today, one can see commemorative plaques throughout the Casco Viejo reminding the visitor of the maximum water level reached that fateful summer day when Old Bilbao and areas adjacent to the river were inundated.
Two years later in 1985, hope was by then restored with the founding of the Urban Planning and Renovation Public Company of Bilbao (SURBISA), with the goal of the urban development of the Casco Viejo, which was later expanded to the Bilbao la Vieja district of Old Bilbao in 1994. In 2003, the City of Bilbao commissioned SURBISA with the renovation of the neighbouring rail district of Zabala, which had been declared a degraded area by the Basque Government in 2002.
The ultimate objective of the development plan was not merely aesthetic, but was intended to keep people living in these areas, attract new residents along with improving living standards. Two decades after devising the plan, it can be comfortably said that not only has the original goal been fully met, but all expectations have even been exceeded. Today Casco Viejo is a magnet attracting locals and tourists alike with its varied and lively atmosphere of shops, bars and restaurants.
Wandering around the Casco Viejo we can find such treasures as the Neoclassical Plaza Berria, Santiago Cathedral, the Basque Archaeological, Ethnographic and History Museum in Unamuno Square, and the Archaeological Museum on Mallona stairway leading up to the Basilica of Bego単a. There is also Meabe Square with a children's playground giving breathing space to the heart of Old Bilbao where the Gayarre Theatre stood for over a century, as well as the Holy Steps Museum on Iturribide Street nearby. Finally, just a few more steps away in the neighbourhood of Atxuri, we find the Dioceses Museum of Religious Art.