7 September 2015
Bilbao, Spain: Basque Country

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

When we left Bordeaux, France we headed for Spain.

Spanish customs and immigration officials will officially admit our ship and guests and crew, and you’ll hear a lot of Spanish being spoken on the streets.

But to some—and please, I am not trying to get in the middle of a political dispute—we are actually entering a wholly different place: Basque Country.

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The Guggenheim Bilbao Museum

Bilbao, located on the northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula about 19 kilometers or 12 miles from the Bay of Biscay, is also the largest municipality of the autonomous community of the Basque Country.

It is believed that the Basques are the distant descendants of some of the earliest inhabitants of Western Europe.

Genetic studies indicate Basque tribes predated the arrival of planned agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, about 7,000 years ago.

The Basque Language, still in wide use in this region, is unrelated to Indo-European languages. At the time of the Romans, they spoke a variant of the Aquitanian Language.

Other Basque cities in Spain include Navarre and Pamplona.

In the autonomous region within Spain, the official languages are Basque and Spanish, although the Spanish constitution requires knowledge of Spanish.

By some estimates, about one-third of the residents of the autonomous region use Basque in everyday communication.

But the influence of the Basques spreads much further than that, with a diaspora that spreads around the world, especially in places where ex-pats could put to use their skills in sheepherding, ranching, and fishing.

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According to some, the biggest influence of the Basques are the Jesuits, and the Republic of Chile.

Ignatius Loyola, born in Loyola in the Basque Country of Spain in 1491, is considered the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

And an estimated 45 percent of the immigrants to Chile in the 17th and 18th centuries were Basque; today about 2.5 million Basque descendants live there, more than the population of the Basque Country in Spain and nearby France.

Millions of others of Basque lineage live in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, South Africa, and Australia.

Today, Bilbao is most known for its museum centerpiece: the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, it was opened in 1997.

Built alongside the Nervion River, which runs through the city of Bilbao, it is one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

It features permanent and visiting exhibits of modern art works by Spanish and international artists.

The Guggenheim Bilbao is considered by many to be one of the most important contemporary structures.

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The museum came about because of an effort by the autonomous Basque government to have a rebirth of the city’s decrepit port area. In 1981, the government offered to fund a Guggenheim museum, covering the $100 million U.S. cost of construction, a $50 million acquisitions fund, and to subsidize the annual budget.

Not a bad deal if you’re a foundation looking to add a new museum to your collection.

The curves on the exterior of the building were intended to appear random and to catch the light. The museum is clad in glass, titanium, and limestone.

The interior is designed around a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country.

To some it looks like a ship. To others a fish.

To me it looks like an extraordinary place; I’m not a fan of Frank Gehry, but this structure gets past my strict bar.

Text and images copyright 2015 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


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