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Ten years ago, a bizarre "it", a building between a ship and a gigantic fish, was anchored on the banks of the river Nervión, in the ex-industrial area of Bilbao. Its back was clad in titanium panels and its stomach was filled up with masterpieces of art. The Bilbaínos went down to see. They were dazzled by the sudden glare that flooded their grey city; shocked by the amount of money spent for this project, totally funded by the Basque authorities, they were incredulous of the future. Ten years later, this "it", the Guggenheim Museum, changed the city's image. Bilbao, the former coal-mining city has become like the Mecca of modern architecture and avant guard design, and consequently a boosting tourist destination.

Bilbao. A regeneration story. Photos ©Massimo Pizzocaro/Lightmediation Text ®Elisavet Laloudaki Contact - Thierry Tinacci Lightmediation Photo Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 thierry@lightmediation.com


1455-06: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea were in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Atrium, the "Cypress fossil" sculpture


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-01: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-02: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art entrance . Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-03: 'Puppy' dog flower sculpture by Jeff Koons 12 meters high, in front the Guggenheim Museum transported to Bilbao in 1997. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-04: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art (back side). Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-05: Museo de bellas artes (fine arts museum) / Spain / Bilbao

1455-06: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-07: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-08: La Puerta de los Honorables (2001) Sculpture by Casto Solano next to the


1455-29: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry


1455-09: Sondika Airport (Txoriherri Valley) Nickname "La Paloma" (the Dove) after its bird shape. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened in

1455-10: Sondika Airport (Txoriherri Valley) Nickname "La Paloma" (the Dove) after its bird shape . Designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened in

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-11: 'Fosteritos' the entrances to the city's subway designed by Norman Foster. Plaza de Espana. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-12: Petit Palace Arana (3 stars) Hi Tech Hotel in the old city (casco Viejo)


1455-13: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-14: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-15: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-16: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art (back side) . Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao


1455-48: Museo de bellas artes (fine arts museum)


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-17: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao

1455-18: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-19: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-20: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars).Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of


1455-21: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002; Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,

1455-22: Miro' Hotel (4 stars). Designed in minimalistic style by Fashion designer Antonio Miro' this boutique hotel opened at the end of 2002. Detail of the entrance window.

1455-23:Miro' Hotel (4 stars). Designed in minimalistic style by Fashion designer Antonio Miro' this boutique hotel opened at the end of 2002. Detail of the reception's desk.

1455-24: Miro' Hotel (4 stars). Designed in minimalistic style by Fashion designer Antonio Miro' this boutique hotel opened at the end of 2002. Room detail.


1455-04: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art (back side). Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry

1455-21: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002; Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio,


1455-25: Miro' Hotel (4 stars). Designed in minimalistic style by Fashion designer Antonio Miro' this boutique hotel opened at the end of 2002 . Room detail.

1455-26: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration

1455-27: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration

1455-28: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-29: Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-30: 'Maman' Sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise (1999).next to the Guggenheim Museum. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-31:Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art (back side).Built in 1997 by Frank O. Gehry. 'maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise / Spain / Bilbao

1455-32: Zubizuri pedestians bridge or Puente de las Universidades (Univeristies Bridge) on Ria de Bilbao river. Shaped as a bird, designed by Santiago Calatrava, inaugurated in 1997, made in white glass and


1455-03: 'Puppy' dog flower sculpture by Jeff Koons 12 meters high, in front the Guggenheim Museum transported to Bilbao in 1997.


1455-33: Sondika Airport (Txoriherri Valley) Nickname "La Paloma" (the Dove) after its bird shape. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened in

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-34: 'Fosteritos' (detail) the entrances to the city's subway designed by Norman Foster. Plaza Moyua..Subdelegation del Gobierno building in the background. /

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-35: panoramic view of the old city / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-36: panoramic view of the old city / Spain / Bilbao


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-37: Arriaga Theater building / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-38: Arriaga Theater building Petite Palace Arana (3 stars hotel) / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-39:Town hall building, built in 1892 by Joaquin Rucoba. Sculpture by Jorge Oteiza (2002) in the foreground. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-40: San Anton Bridge and church / Spain / Bilbao


1455-12: Petit Palace Arana (3 stars) Hi Tech Hotel in the old city (casco Viejo) next to Arriaga theater, built in 1850 Renovated in August 2002. http://www.hthoteles.com/ Bar and meeting room at the top floor


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-41: Statue of Diego Lopez de Haro, founder of the city of Bilbao in 1300. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-42: Buildings on the river side / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-43: Buildings on the river side / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-44: Santander train station facade / Spain / Bilbao


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-45: Interior of Abando train station, stain glass window / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-46: the river. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-47: Fountain detail in the park of the fine art museum / Spain / Bilbao

1455-58: Cafe Iruna. Historical coffee shop and restaurant, opened in 1903.


1455-54: Mercado de la Ribera. The biggest covered market in Europe (Guiness Record) Built in 1929 by Pedro Ispizua, boat shape, three floors, 10.413 square meters. Night view of the building


Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-49: Urban transportation, red bus / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-50: Puente Colgante.The first "transporter bridge" in the world. Built in 1893 by Don Alberto de Palacio. Connects Getxo to Portugalete. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-51: Puente Colgante: the first "transporter bridge" in the world. Built in 1893 by Don Alberto de Palacio. Connects Getxo to Portugalete. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-53: Folk feast in the old city (Casco Viejo) / Spain / Bilbao


1455-59: Victor Montes Restaurant. Historical place in Plaza Nueva, Casco Viejo. Renowned for its wines collection . Jamon, Ham.

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-55: Delicatessen shop: Victor grocery in the old city. Selected products from all over the world. Ham section (jamon) / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-56: Delicatessen shop: Victor grocery in the old city. Selected products from all over the world. Old and expensive wines. / Spain / Bilbao

Bilbao, the Mecca of modern architecture / 1455-57: Cafe Iruna. Historical coffee shop and restaurant, opened in 1903. / Spain / Bilbao


1455-30: 'Maman' Sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise (1999).next to the Guggenheim Museum.


Bilbao. A regeneration story. The atrium of the Silken Gran Hotel Domine is packed with people coming and going; not the usual clientele of a 5 stars hotel, but cameramen, journalists, photographers, directors, various assistants, etc. In the middle of this provisional movie studio rises an astonishing artwork entitled 'Fossil Cypress', 90 tons of pebbles wrapped in a simple wire mesh! This artificial/natural column that occupies the entire verticality of the building, from floor to ceiling (26 meters!), was signed by Javier Mariscal, famous for the Barcelona Olympic Games mascot, Cobi. Properly speaking, everything in this hotel was designed or chosen by Mariscal. According to his ambitious creative concept, he wanted to pay homage the 20th century design. He carried it out starting from the facade: since this hotel, built in 2002, is standing just opposite the Guggenheim museum, the black-glass windows reflect through odd angles the architectural wonder of Frank O. Ghery. Saioa, one of the hotel's PR girls, who helps me to explore this temple of modern design, explains me what happens: a very-very famous TV persona will give an interview in a few minutes. "Can you imagine? She chose Bilbao for his very first press conference of the season! A few years ago only in our wildest dreams could we have imagined this fortune". I leave Sayioa in her dreams heading for the hotel's rooftop terrace, which offers definitely the best view in the city. The

gigantic sea-monster is right there in a distance of few meters. Some call the Guggenheim Museum 'the world's largest toy', some others, 'the world's greatest building'. Without doubt it is one of the most spectacular constructions of the 20th century, a gigantic abstract-sculpture-building that seemed impossible. "The randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light", said the american/canadian architect Frank O. Gehry. And it is true, this magical building changes colors and shapes during the day depending on the light. How possible is it that a single, even legendary, building could change a city's life? This is the case of Bilbao, often referred as "the Guggenheim effect". Nowadays BilbaĂ­nos vaguely remember the post-industrial, rather depressive image of their city, transformed into a glamour tourist destination. "Botxo" as they call it (it means "whole") is placed for sure on Europe's cultural map. Guggenheim was just the first step in Bilbao's revitalization plan.

Bilbao's roots Although 'Botxo' may seem like an odd nickname for a port, it is fully accurate, as Bilbao is an inland city, enclosed by green hills and linked with the Cantabrian Sea (15km northern) through the navigable river Nervion. This river is responsible for the city's real name that derives from the phrase bi albo, which in euskara, the Basque language, means two river banks. Another interesting oddity concerning Bilbao is the fact that, although the biggest and the most important Basque city (350,000 inhabitans, 1 million for the Greater Bilbao), it isn't the capital of the

autonomous community of the Basque Country. The capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz, the second largest Basque city by population. Much ado about nothing. Bilbao stood for centuries as one of the most developed cities of the entire country. The first period of Bilbao's prosperity may roughly extend from the 15-16th centuries to the last decades of the 20th century. All this time, the economic growth was based mainly on commercial activities, financial and maritime business since Bilbao was the main export port of northern Spain linking the country first to Europe and then to the Americas. The city was gradually expanded and embellished with emblematic buildings. The Old Quarter (or Casco Viejo) a true labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets with long-standing mansions and majestic churches (the Basques, despite the abundant pagan beliefs survived in their culture, are devout and churchgoing catholics) is located in the Right Bank of the river. In the 19th century the discovery of vast mineral deposits in the surrounding area transformed further more Bilbao into an industrial hub with steelworks and shipyards and consequently into a rich city. The constant growth of the population was followed by urban expansion in line with the demands of the city's elite for bourgeois grandeur. This 'new' Bilbao, endowed with wide boulevards, promenades shaded with trees, palatial buildings and theaters, spread out towards the Left Bank. At the beginning of the eighties the deep crisis of the iron and steel sectors hits badly Bilbao, thus suffering a large economic and social decline. From this post-industrial times, apart the wastelands and the wrecks, Bilbao inherited the reputation of a "tough city". Some say that this blend of different 'identities' (medieval, neoclassical and industrial) in such a

restricted urban area forms the legend of "Bilbao's charm" and explains furthermore why the city get attract so many internationally renowned architects.

The Cinderella's transformation If someone walks today along the promenades of Ripa, Abandoibarra, Urbitrate or La Merced all remodeled with attention to detail, designed like an open-air museum exhibiting modern art sculptures, he could never imagine how it was the same setting just one decade ago. The "before" and "after" pictures shock. Where now these leisure parks stand, ideal places for strolling, joking, skating, bicycling etc., were nothing more than abandoned factories, storehouses in decay, rubbish, debris, ruins, a true wasteland. Then, suddenly the BilbaĂ­nos decided to react. The 'tough city' was indeed too tough to die. In 1991 the heads of the Basque Country Administrations contacted the managers of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation proposing them to participate to Bilbao's revitalization plan. Once the design of Frank O. Gehry and the location (a deserted field of Abando area, just few hundred meters from the city's center, the Gran Via and the placa Moyua) has been agreed on, they started the construction work. The Guggenheim Museum was completed in 1997; just the construction cost, totally covered by the Basque Country, was over $100 millions. One year later 1.300.000 people had passed the Museum's doors, three times the number expected according the most optimistic predictions - the initial goal was 400.000 visitors! Three years later, in 2000, the world famous Spanish architect and engineer


Santiago Calatrava constructed Pasarela Zubizuri, an ultramodern suspension bridge for pedestrians, one of the two new bridges over the river Nervion - the other is the pasarela Padre Arrupe designed by Lorenzo Fernández Ordóñez, a footbridge that links the Guggenheim museum to the University of Deusto, one of the most prominent academic institutions of Spain. In the same year Calatrava was built the city's airport too, known as La Paloma (the Dove) because of its particular design. Both these Calatrava's projects have been criticized for impracticality: the bridge's floor become slippery when it rains and the airport lacks of space without any prevision of enlargement. On the contrary, the Bilbainos are really enthusiastic about their metro system designed by the British elite architect, Sir Norman Foster and inaugurated in 1995. Many believe that the metro's entrances, the curved transparent structures at the street level dubbed affectionately Fosteritos, are the true symbols of Bilbao's new era. As expected, a significant hotel boom has resulted Bilbao's 'renaissance', clearly modern in orientation. Apart the Mariscal's Silken Gran Hotel Domine, another luxury boutique-hotel, the Miró (just few hundred meters away the Guggenheim Museum) was created by the fashion designer Antonio Miró. In the same neighborhood, the Abandoibarra area, next to Guggenheim and to the Euskalduna Conference Center and Concert hall, was built in 2005 the Bilbao Sheraton, an art hotel; his architect, the Mexican Ricardo Legorreta was inspired by the work of the Basque sculpture Eduardo Chillida. Apart the construction of new hotels, the already existed accommodation facilities were

"refurbished". The most striking case of hotel's renovation is that of Petit Palace Arana in the city's center just in front of the neoclassical Arriaga Theater. Located in an emblematic 19th century building, on the site of Bilbao's oldest hotel, Petit Palace Arana is now a boutique-hotel that mixes the hi-tech with the classic charm.

Passion for life

Why so many people are visiting and re-visiting Bilbao? Just because of the Guggenheim Museum? They say that this incredible building overshadows the art collections and the exhibitions that hosts but i don't think that it has the same effect in the city. Bilbao is a self-confident and vibrant city full of energy. The Bilbaínos have the reputation, apart of being hard-workers, of food and fun enthusiasts. They love to go out for dinner or drink. Every evening, especially Tuesdays and Fridays, the neighborhood Siete Callies of Casco Viejo is swamped with people of diverse ages and social classes standing outside the miniature and of course cramped bars. They call it 'poteo' or 'txikiteo' this pilgrimage from bar to bar drinking wine, cider or beer, eating 'pintxos' (the Basque form of 'tapas' or tiny portions of sophisticated dishes) and then moving to the next bar for another round. During this bar crawl nothing is left to chance: each bar is known for a distinct speciality. The Basque Nouvelle Cuisine or Nueva Cocina Vasca is now recognized as among the best in Europe. In fact the gastronomy is an all-important element of the Basque culture, a long-standing passion. In 1929 the city's authorities commissioned the Basque architect Pedro

Ispizua to build a municipal Market. He designed it like a ship ready to weigh anchors for a trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Eighty years later, this Mercado still is Europe's largest covered market. When i asked if they really need all these 10.431 sq.m. for choosing mostly vegetables the answer was : Absolutely! We love food.


Captions. 1455-06: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea were in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Atrium, the "Cypress fossil" sculpture 1455-07: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea were in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Stairs 1455-09- 10: Sondika Airport (Txoriherri Valley) Nickname "La Paloma" (the Dove) after its bird shape . Designed by Santiago Calatrava, opened in November 2000. 1455-13: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea were in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Facade 1455-14: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002 . Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of

the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Lobby detail, red sofa produced by Moroso 1455-15: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Lobby detail, red sofa produced by Moroso 1455-18: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Atrium detail 1455-19: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars) Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com The cocktail lounge 1455-20: Silken Grand Hotel Domine (5 stars).Opened in front of the Guggenheim Museum in 2002. Designed integrally by Javier Mariscal studio, Fernando Salas and Inaki Aurrecoetxea where in charge of the project. http://www.grandhoteldominebilbao.com Room interior, view from the bathroom bathtub by Philippe Starck

1455-26: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration every couple of months. Special happening with TV stars and other VIPs as DJs. http://www.arrebato.info The shop window, next to the entrance, recalls the decoration of the club. 1455-27: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration every couple of months. Special happening with TV stars and other VIPs as DJs. http://www.arrebato.info Interior, view on Ribera market. 1455-28: Club Arrebato, Muelle Marzana 5. Avant-garde music club, decorated by the owner Marcela, furniture designer. She changes decoration every couple of months. Special happening with TV stars and other VIPs as DJs. http://www.arrebato.info Decoration detail

Bilbao. A regeneration story.  

Ten years ago, a bizarre "it", a building between a ship and a gigantic fish, was anchored on the banks of the river Nervión, in the ex-ind...

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