|Riverfront apartments in Bilbao’s old town|
Short on time because of the disaster that was my New Years’ in strike-ridden southwestern France, I could only spend half a day in Bilbao, yet I still enjoyed the little I got to see.
The Guggenheim museum
|The museum seen from the north|
The building is the type of flowing, dynamic structure that could only have been achieved in the Information Age. From this technological perspective, you can appreciate the “walls” which take you back to those intersecting planes and waves from an intimidating trigonometry class. Builders were able to construct such precise, swooping curves with the help of modern graphing programs, and have made an exciting departure from the limits of traditional architecture.
The museum’s collection holds numerous sculptures, but I believe the coolest one is the building that houses said collection—a sculpture that you can walk around, explore, and even touch with your hands. From the outside, its exhibition halls look like cubes of jello, frozen mid-wiggle, and from the inside, you get the feeling you’ve stepped into a futuristic gyrating cathedral.
The gleaming titanium panels that cover most of the structure evoke the region’s past connection with iron ore extraction and steel production, while at the same time reminding us of the iridescent scales of a fish. Fishing, and later whaling, played a huge role in Basque society for thousands of years.
The undulating walls and almost complete lack of straight edges connect the museum with the river and with the ocean. Centuries ago, Basque mariners had become experts at long-distance sailing and ship-building, and were found on famous voyages from Columbus to Magellan to the Spanish Armada. That Gehry connected his work with a sense of place in these ways makes his architecture all the more interesting.
The Basque museum
|Atrium, Guggenheim museum|
Like San Sebastián, Bilbao’s old town drew me mainly for its food (see the pintxos section below), which I wasted no time in taking advantage of. Pretty apartment complexes kept me shaded and cool as I went back and forth across a rigid street grid, something almost unheard-of in old European cities.
Also like San Sebastián, Bilbao has its own museum devoted to Basque society, called the Euskal Museoa. Thankfully it was free, but inside it was clearly a “free” museum; you could tell the exhibits and presentations were a little dated (not necessarily ugly, just kind of faded), HUGE blocks of text were really intimidating to plow through, and information was given exclusively in Spanish and Basque (no English or French at all). So if you don’t speak either of those two languages, you’ll be pretty lost here. It did surprise me to learn about the Basque diaspora: how countless Basques emigrated from Spain over the past two hundred years to places like the Argentine pampas or the mountains of the American West that reminded them of home. Apparently there’s a huge international Basque culture festival held every five years in Boise, Idaho. Who knew?
|Atrium, Guggenheim museum|
While in Bilbao, I tried the following pintxos:
* boquerones con pisto (pickled anchovies & ratatouille)
* crab sandwich
* solomillo Wellington (pork sirloin in a cheese sauce)
Blogging note: I will be traveling sans laptop around Morocco and Spain over Semana Santa next week (Easter break), so don’t expect any blog posts until April 1st—no joke!
How do you feel about modern “avant-garde” architecture like the Guggenheim museum: beautiful innovation or next decade’s laughingstock? And did you know there were so many Basque descendants abroad? Are you Basque? Join the comments below.
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.