Bilbao and Its Basque Culture Term Paper

Pages: 13 (3563 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

Basque Culture of Bilbao and the Regeneration of the Villa of Bilbao in Contemporary Times

The objective of this work is to report on Bilbao and its history and culture, with an emphasis on Basque influences.

The work of Robert Lawrence Trask states that the Basque-speaking region extends from just outside the cathedral city of Bayonne (Basque Baiona) in the north to the outskirts of the huge industrial port of Bilbao (Basque Bilbo) in the west; these two cities and the ancient city of Pamplona (Basque Irunea) all lie just outside the territory." (1997) Trask relates that the early Middle Ages "were a time of urbanization and economic growth in the Basque Country." (1997) This is stated to be, in part, due to an influence by the French as "French pilgrims were flocking to the newly important shrine of Santiae de Compostela" and "the Navarrese kings actively encouraged French settlers to move in and found cities, few of which yet existed in the Basque mountains.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Bilbao and Its Basque Culture Assignment

The most important consequence of the development was the found of San Sebastian in 1180 and Bilbao in 1300, these two cities and Bayonne were the only important Basque ports, and they were destined to play a major role in Basque history later, especially Bilbao." (Trask, 1997) During the twelfth century, many towns were founded in the Basque territories and while "that information is none too plentiful," it is still possible to visualize the "mixed economy: pastoralism was perhaps the backbone, but small-scale agricultural was practiced wherever the terrain would allow it, and there was considerable fishing along the coast. Basque ships from Bayonne, San Sebastian, and Bilbao traded all over western and northern Europe. This is stated to have substantially affected "the economy of the formerly removed and backward coastal region." (Trask, 1997) From approximately the time Bilbao was founded there is plenty of evidence of "well-developed local democracy in the Basque provinces..." (Trask, 1997) the French Basques were "generally content with English rule, from which they were deriving considerable commercial benefit..." (Trask, 1997) in 1883, Bilbao's prominent businessmen founded the University of Deusto.


The work of William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika entitled: "Basque Anthropological Culture Perspectives" relates that Basque Industrialization is "extricably tied to Bilbao. Throughout history, it has been the cutting edge of the Basque economy." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd) This work states that the colorful figures in Bilbao includes:."..fisherman, mariners, shipbuilders, merchants colonial adventurers, and smugglers..." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd)

The lives of these individuals "were dependent on the Catabrian Sea." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd) Passing through the city is the Neroioi (Nervion) River, and as such "...was the grand avenue to the Atlantic Ocean" and was the "facilitator and symbol of Bilbao's maritime traffic and openness to the word." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd) the city of Bilbao also has a seaport that is important due to its "vast deposits of mineral wealth" and was noted by Pliny "...the Roman chronicler that "Canabria's 'mountain of iron' "situated adjacent to what would become Bilbao a thousand years later." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd)


Bilbao was founded in 1300 by Don Diego Lopez de Haro and this charter "guaranteed the nascent town exclusive jurisdiction over the Nerboioi's trade." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd) Exports in great volume including Castilian wood, Basque iron implemented combined with imported European goods "made the Bilbao-Flanders run Western Europe's most important trade route." (Douglass and Zulaika, nd) Zulaika states in the work entitled: "Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa: Museums, Architecture and City Renewal" that Bilbao, following its history as a medieval villa became a 'commercial villa' after the establishment of its consulate in 1511 "then, in the second half of the last century, it grew into the proud regional industrial city..." (2003)

Beginning in the 1990s the "post industrial Bilbao" has been "reborn from the ashes of its industrial ruins." (Zulaika,

Zulaika writes that the Spanish philosopher and writer Miguel de Unamuno wrote "of the Nervion River which anchors his native Bilbao" as follows:

You are, Nervioun, the history of the Villa,

You her past and her future, you are Memory always turning into hope

And on your firm riverbed fleeing flow." (Zulaika, 2003)


Bilbao's foundational charter "granted the medieval villa exclusive jurisdictional rights to Nervious trade. The river has supplied Bilbao's history, wealth and central metaphor." (Zulaika, 2003) Bilbao made the provision of the "natural ports for exports and a wide window on the world." (Zulaika, 2003) During a period of 150 years of industrial boom, the banks of the Nervion River "became the home of Spain's largest iron and steel industries." (Zulaika, 2003) All that remains on this period according to Zulaika is "a wasteland of industrial ruins." (Zulaika, 2003) in fact, the many years of heavy industry in the city of Bilbao had turned the Nervion River "into a black meandering sewer upon which the Bilbainos had learned to turn their backs." (Zulaika, 2003) a bridge was erected over the Nervion River "long before the villa was founded in 1300." (Zulaika, 2003)


Zulaika states of the construction of the San Anton Bridge that it was:

Promethean attempt to arch worlds apart: land and shore, river and sea, interior and exterior, past and future, left and right. It is this tradition of bridging the seemingly impossible - suspension bridges floating in the air and drawbridges opening up their mandibles to the sky in a big yawn as the cargo files surreptitiously by, these tenuous and temporary structural rites of passage, yet complicated and enduring works of arrogant engineering that sustained Bilbao's self-invented image of a synthesis of warring elements, a historical linkage between the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of the villa and its hinterland, the rural and urban economics, aristocratic and proletarian lives, and Basque and European interests." (Zulaika, 2003)

Bilbao is situated in the Spanish province of Vizcaya and is the "birthplace of both Basque nationalism and Spanish socialism." (Zulaika, 2003) While the Basques are widely pictures as shepherds and the Basques "have had their share of pastoral experiences" at the same time the "main industrial and urban Basque center shatters the basis for such a collective representation." (Zulaika, 2003)

Zulaika notes that "all traditions are selective" and "in such traditions the transition from the rural to the industrial" is viewed as a demotion of sorts. The mining tradition of Basque precedes the Villa itself. Zulaika states that the historical perspective necessary to understand the role of Bilbao is provided by Wolf (1982) who relates that beginning in the fifteenth century forward: "European soldiers and sailors, merchants in the service of 'God and profit' provided wide-ranging military and naval support while furnishing commodities to overseas suppliers in exchange for goods to be sold as commodities at home." (Zulaika, 2003) Resulting was a commercial network being created on a global scale. (paraphrased)


The harbor in Bilbao was the "key part of the infrastructure and was renovated and finance by private and public funds." (Zulaika, 2003) in the 1870s, railroads were constructed that connected three mines with the harbors. Zulaika relates that Max Weber, at the turn of the century, wrote of Bilbao as follows:

The panorama of the mountains...rising above the sea and the Nervious valley, smoking with a hundred chimneys, forms a spectacle that is so stunning as to become unforgettable." (Zulaika, 2003)

Bilbao was tenth in rank in shipping tonnage in 1856 among Spanish port commercial shipping and "by the mid-1860s it was second only to Barcelona." (Zulaika, 2003) This climb to productivity of Bilbao was not easy and included setbacks relating to iron and wool decline in exports in the first part of the century combined with the First Carlist War of succession to the Spanish throne occurring in the 1830s. When the more advanced factories were established by Andalucia the right to import duty-free products was lost by Bilbao and it was "fully integrated into the Spanish market." (Zulaika, 2003)


This integration is said to have "opened new trade opportunities with the Spanish colonies, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines..." resulting in the growth of imports in the decades of the 1840s, 50s, and 60s with Great Britain in the trade of textiles, machinery, drugs and chemical products and with France in silk and textiles. Trade opened up with Norway in the trade of codfish, which accounted for approximately 75% of all imports. Exported from Bilbao were grain and flour, which equaled approximately 72% of the exports between 1858 and 1866 and the shipyards of Bilbao "enjoyed great prosperity during the 1850s and 1860s." (Zulaika, 2003) Total shipping tonnage climbed to 68,200 in 1858 as compared to 30,000 in 1847. Also growing in Bilbao was banking and insurance.


Zulaika writes that the industrialization process, which was global in nature "deeply transformed Spain and formed new urban… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Bilbao and Its Basque Culture.  (2008, May 30).  Retrieved February 26, 2021, from

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"Bilbao and Its Basque Culture."  30 May 2008.  Web.  26 February 2021. <>.

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"Bilbao and Its Basque Culture."  May 30, 2008.  Accessed February 26, 2021.