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Iron and art

The Nervión estuary, the most populated region in the Basque Country, surrounds the city of Bilbao and its commercial port. The towns on the left bank used to depend historically on the port, mining and industrial activity, and in recent years they have been restored and renovated following the guidelines of the most innovative architectural trends.

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This route may be covered in one day. The most practical way to visit the towns on the left bank of the Bilbao or Nervión estuary is by public transport (buses, regional train services RENFE line C-1). It is worth covering one of the routes by boat along the estuary. The journey starts in the old quarter in Bilbao, which has been turned into a pedestrian, shopping and leisure area. It has preserved the oldest corners and buildings in the city, such as the Gothic Church of San Antón (14th century), the Cathedral of Santiago (14th-16th centuries), and the Plaza Nueva square. In this area you can also find the Basilica of Virgen de Begoña (16th century) and the Arriaga Theatre (1886-1890), by Joaquín Ruicoba. The urban expansion area, built around the Gran Vía, has buildings such as the Vizcaya Regional Government building, designed in an eclectic style (19th-20th centuries), and the art nouveau Campos Elíseos Theatre. If we continue our route along the estuary, we'll be able to see buildings and architectural works such as the Deusto bridge (1936, Ignacio de Rotaeche) and avant-garde works such as the footbridges by Santiago Calatrava (1996) and Arata Isozaki (2007), the towers in the Isozaki Atea complex (2004), the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry (1991-1997), and the site made up of the Euskalduna bridge (1997, Ricardo Manterola), the Euskalduna Palace (1991-1998, Federico Soriano) and the Bilbao Estuary Maritime Museum (opened in 2003). Here we get to the end of Bilbao and we enter a stretch where we'll be able to see good examples of "industrial archaeology". Some of the buildings and port and industrial facilities are currently in use, and others bear witness of the industrial tradition of Gran Bilbao. The towns situated on the left bank form a continuous urban area about 15 kilometres long. The first one is Barakaldo, which hosts the Bilbao Trade Fair since 2004 in the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, or BEC. Here we'll see the highest building in the Basque Country: the BEC tower by Cesar Azcarate and Esteban Rodríguez. In the second one, Sestao, we'll be able to visit one of the ovens in the historic company Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, which is ready to welcome visitors, or we can take a walk through the Markonzaga, Ondejeda and Benedicto parks. Portugalete is the estuary town with the most interesting architecture. In the historic quarter we can find the Basilica of Santa María (Gothic-Renaissance), the Salazar tower (14th century) and the Convent of Santa Clara, (Renaissance-Plateresque). In this municipality, connecting both sides of the estuary, we can find the Vizcaya suspension bridge, made of iron, by the architect Alberto de Palacio y Elissague in 1893, which was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2006. At the end of the route we arrive in the town of Santurtzi, situated next to the Abra or Great Port of Bilbao, where the estuary flows into the Cantabrian Sea. There we'll be able to go for a walk in the Reina Victoria fishing port and promenade, or visit the Open-Air Sculpture Museum. We'll also be able to visit the palaces of Oriol and Marquis of Casa Torre, and the churches of Virgen del Mar and San Jorge.



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