Category: Bilbao (page 1 of 5)

Joseba Zulaika’s “That Old Bilbao Moon” reviewed in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The latest issue of the journal of this eminent institute contains a glowing review of Joseba Zulaika’s book. Written by Isaac Marrero-Guillamóm, the review opens to the heart of this remarkable book, “This is not a book about Bilbao, nor is it an ethnography of the Basque city. It is, rather, a multi-layered by-product of Bilbao—a book possessed by its history, people, ghosts, and art.”

You should click here and read the whole review, but I want to leave you with the final words of the review:

Ultimately, this book is recommended for those interested in the anthropology of the Spanish transition to democracy. It is also a remarkable experiment in auto-ethnographic writing. Its opening lines are a compelling invitation to the potential reader:

It was the spring of 1999 and a Carnival Monday morning when I returned for a visit to San Felicísimo (‘Saint Happiest’) – the Bilbao monastery where in the 1960s, as a teenager and for almost a decade, I tried hard to become a saint, but was finally expelled, an atheist and suicidal (p. 9).

If you don’t have a copy of this “remarkable” (a sentiment I could not agree with more) book, buy it right now!

Browse here

February 19, 1999: Inauguration of Euskalduna Conference Centre

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera.

On February 19, 1999, the newly completed Euskalduna Conference Centre was inaugurated in Bilbao. Designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios to resemble a ship under construction, because it stands on the site formerly occupied by the Euskalduna shipyard, the building won the Enric Miralles award for architecture at the 6th Spanish Architecture Biennial in 2001 and in 2003 the International Congress Palace Association declared it to be the world’s best congress center. It is without doubt one of the key emblematic sites–historical, cultural, and architectural–of Bilbao and a “must see” building for any visitor to the capital of Bizkaia.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna was a shipyard located in the heart of Bilbao that also came to specialize in the construction of rail and road vehicles. It operated between 1900 and 1988, when it closed in controversial circumstances due to downsizing. The famous “Carola” Crane, a symbol of the shipyard in its heyday, still stands and now forms part of the Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum, which is located alongside the Euskalduna Conference Centre.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna is today home to both the city’s opera season and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, as well as serving as a multipurpose conference and event center with a 2000-seat auditorium, a 600-seat theater, conference rooms, meeting rooms, a press room, restaurants, an exhibition hall, an a commercial gallery.

Photo by Asier Sarasua Aranberri.

Check out the Euskalduna website here.

The Center has published several books on the transformation of Bilbao (and the Basque Country in general), a story in which the Euskalduna is prominent. See, for example, Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of  a City as well as Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi and Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



February 10, 1925: Collapse of emblematic Basque bank Crédito de la Unión Minera

On February 10, 1925, one of the most well-known Basque banks, Crédito de la Unión Minera (Mining Union Credit)–an early Bilbao banking institution founded in the spring of 1901–suspended all payments as a prelude its collapse as a result of the financial downturn in the 1920s. Curiously, the full liquidation of its assets would drag on a further seventy-five years, culminating at the dawn of the new millennium.

Crédito de la Unión Minera was established in 1901 on the back of both significant growth in Bilbao itself (as a consequence of the strong mining export market) and the inflow of capital from former colonies following the fall of the Spanish empire. As its name indicated, this particular bank was associated closely to the mining sector on Bizkaia. Thereafter, the “Crédito” managed to retain its independence, in the wake of a series of fusions among other Bilbao banking interests, thanks to a successful aggressive commercial policy that saw its share price soar on the Bilbao stock market. This initial success was bolstered during World War I (1914-1918) with Spanish neutrality in the conflict benefiting the important Basque banking sector.

With the end of the war, however, and the economic downturn in the 1920s, those banks that had been especially speculative or adventurous were suddenly in trouble.  Specifically, as a result of over speculation, the Crédito was suffering from a lack of cash flow and on February 10, 1925, it suspended all payments prior to its official collapse.

Interestingly, it was still possible to cash in on the remaining assets of the bank right up until late 2001!

For more on this fascinating story, check out a great article by Eduardo J. Alonso Olea, “El Crédito de la Unión Minera: 1901-2002,” in Historia Contemporánea 24 (2002): 323-53. Available here.

Kerri Lesh interviewed by Basque newspaper Berria


PC to Monika del Valle

This past month, in between traveling from Bilbo to Donostia for the II. Sagardo Forum – Sagardoaren Lurraldea, I was interviewed by Lander Muñagorri Garmendia from the Basque newspaper Berria  about my dissertation project.  As I am constantly improving my Basque-speaking skills, we switched back and forth between Spanish and Euskara over a beer at a local bar while I described my project and findings over the last year as a doctoral student.

Here is a translated portion of the interview from Basque paper:


How did you come to start researching about the use of Basque on labels?

I am a [Teaching Assistant] teacher at the Nevada School of Basque Studies, and I have a small obsession with txakoli: I really like it. I study sociolinguistics, and they told me why I did not connect the two areas. In Northern Europe there is a group [of researchers/scholars] that investigates minority languages and labeling, and from there I started researching. I started with txakoli, and I continued with labels of Rioja Alavesa wine, milk,  craft beers….

Which products are used more in Basque?

Milk, and then cider. And it is  interesting what language is used to export outside the Basque Country, there is a lot of Basque. It is true that it is difficult to make different labels and each with their own destination. [In the case of wine, for example, which is why so many producers make a label focusing on the languages used by the majority, such as English or Spanish].


You have studied the languages chosen on beverage labels. Did you have to try a lot of wine and txakoli?

Yes, a lot. I think that I have chosen a good subject (laughter). I went to several cider houses and txakoli bodegas to study local products, and to consumers as well. For example, I carried out interviews in the txokos [gastronomic societies] of Bilbao, where they serve Rioja wine. Many people know and ask for local products, but most just ask for any Rioja wine, and not specifically from Rioja Alavesa.  It was interesting to observe that.

Does the geographic area affect [language use on labels]?

Yes, I think that in the Northern Basque Country they use a lot of symbols and it’s more folkloric. But this difference is still to be investigated, what people consume and how this language is utilized. As for the difference in the marketing of the Southern and Northern Basque Country, I think that there is a different way of living a language. I am now seeing and starting to understand how people that speak a minority language live. I previously did not understand [how this affected daily life], and from an anthropological point of view I think it’s important to see how this affects many people and causes frustration.


It was so great to hear from so many of you after reading the article-thank you all for the love, support, and opportunity to continue learning…





Flashback Friday: December 5, 1976: Basque flag displayed before historic match between rival Basque soccer teams

Sunday, December 5, 1976, remains a momentous date in contemporary Basque history on account of the remarkable events that took place in Atotxa Stadium, Donostia-San Sebastián: a key crossroads moment of social, political, and sporting history.

That day, the local soccer team in Donostia, Real Sociedad, took on its main rival, Athletic Bilbao in the classic Basque derby game. However, the moment that really defined the match took place before a ball was even kicked. As the two teams took to the field, the respective captains—Inaxio Kortabarria of Erreala and Jose Angel Iribar of Athletic—led their players into the contest while jointly carrying an ikurriña, the Basque flag, which was at the time an illegal act in Spain.

The flag was sown by the sister of one of the Erreala players, José Antonio de la Hoz Uranga, who himself smuggled it into the stadium that day, even managing to hide the banned symbol from a police check on the way to the game. Having done so, Kortabarria went over to the Athletic locker room and suggested the idea of jointly taking the field by holding the flag, in an act aimed at calling for its legalization over a year after the death of Spanish dictator General Franco. In the end, both captains agreed that all the players competing had to agree with the idea—something, all of them local, agreed to without reservation. In the historic photo that marks that occasion, it is de la Hoz Uranga (who did not play that day) who appears covered by the flag walking between the two captains.

Erreala beat Athletic 5-0 that day, but more importantly, the act of carrying out the ikurriña did much to accelerate the legalization of the Basque flag by the Spanish authorities. Ultimately, its public display was finally legalized on January 17, 1977.

Sport in general, including a special focus on Basque sports, is addressed in the CBS publication Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.








The Academy of Urbanism names Bilbao as the 2018 Best European City

Earlier this month, the Academy of Urbanism named Bilbao the 2018 European City of the Year. The other finalists were Ljubljana and Vienna, but Bilbao won the coveted position. Two years ago, another Basque city, Donostia-San Sebastian, was also recognized by the academy. As a Bilbotarra, I’m not surprised, we’ve known Bilbao is the best city in the world for a long time.

Th chair of the Academy, David Rudlin, described the city as follows:


Bilbao is a great example of the wholesale transformation of a former industrial city – not just physically, but socially, economically and culturally. The rejuvenation it has achieved over the past 30 years is nothing short of remarkable. All of this has been achieved through bold and effective leadership, the likes of which has seen the city run debt-free since 2010.

To read more, visit the About Basque Country website as follows:

Multiple acts commemorate 20 years of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

“Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century.” Joseba Zuaika

There have been a series of acts during the last few weeks in Bilbao to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Guggenheim Reflections was a spectacular light show that lit up the Bilbao waterfront nightly between October 11 and 14.

Then on October 18, the twentieth anniversary of the museum’s inauguration, a gala dinner was held in the building itself, whose 525 guests included Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Wendy Fisher, William L. Mack, Karole Vail, and Alberto Vitole, representing the same foundation, the Lehendakari or Basque president, Iñigo Urkullu, as well as Unai Rementeria, the head of the Bizkaian Provincial Council and Juan Mari Aburto, the Mayor of Bilbao.  Guests emjoyed musical accompaniment from the renowned Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and a special dinner menu created by the Basque Country’s leading chefs, including Eneko Atxa, Bittor Arginzoniz, Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak, and Andoni Luis Aduriz.

To commemorate the occasion, too, every resident of Bizkaia has received a free invitation to the museum, and the weekend of October 21-22 it was free to visit.

CBS professor Joseba Zulaika, who has published extensively about the Guggenheim Museum, said this about the anniversary:

The twenty years history of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum presents a complex diversity of contrasting stories. The most spectacular one is obviously architecture. Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century. It presents the paradigm to measure how architecture could transform a city’s urban fabric. With the iconic architecture came the awareness of the singular relevance of image for a struggling city. The news was no longer Bilbao’s post-industrial ruin and terrorism, and this meant more tourism and more foreign investment. The psychology of the city revived, its multi secular can-do spirit restored. These have been great stories for Bilbao and for Basque society in general. But there is no historical process without its shadows. There was initially a widespread opposition to the idea of a New York museum’s satellite in Bilbao. There were solid arguments to oppose it: the secretiveness and opacity of the agreement, the asymmetries in the sharing of the costs and power structures, the very model of a transnational franchise museum. What nobody knew was that Gehry would produce such an spectacular building hailed as a masterpiece worldwide, and that Bilbao would become the model for other cities to be transformed by architecture. The imposition of urban renewal by spectacular architecture left aside other less grandiose but more participative projects such as Gorordo-Oteiza’s Cultural Center. Nor did it resolve the tension between the strategic investment in the internationalization of arts versus the need to promote local arts, or the conflict between maintaining downtown flagship facilities versus the neglect of marginalized neighborhoods. Parodying Magritte’s pipe photograph with the caption “This is not a pipe,” you could say of the Bilbao Guggenheim that “This is not a museum.” But it is also a museum. And on most accounts, even if you dislike some of the trends it brought in art as commodity and spectacle, it is the best thing that happened to Bilbao during these twenty years.

One of the Center’s flagship publications is Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This multiple-authored work, representing the reflections of a conference held at the CBS in 2004, seeks to address the initial impact of the Guggenheim on the social, economic, political, and cultural landscape of Bilbao, the Basque Country, and beyond. The book is also available free to download here.  

Check out, too, some of the Center’s related works:

Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Free to download here

Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain.

Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa: Museums, Architecture, and City Renewal, by Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here

That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, by Joseba Zulaika.

Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.



Refugees Welcome, 1937

Today we are delighted to include a guest post by Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and keen observer of all things Bilbao. Thanks to contributors like Azkarraga and feedback from our readers, we hope to share the many stories and rich history of the Basques around the world. Eskerrik asko Iñaki!

In these times of sad wartime anniversaries, we come across some public gardens in Bilbao dedicated, precisely, to the memory of those people who reflect the best in humanity at the bloodiest of times. I am referring to Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning (1886-1977), an educationalist and sometime member of the British Parliament.

Eighty years ago, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Bilbao was being bombed and on the point of being occupied by fascist troops. The Basque government appealed for international help in evacuating the refugees accumulating in growing numbers the city. Numerous negotiations were successful and senior citizens, women, and children began to be evacuated by sea to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Some of these states had encouraged a policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, abandoning to fate a legitimate democratically-elected government. The British government position was paradigmatic in this regard. However, it was British public opinion, horrified at the news breaking about the bombing of civilians, which forced the government to take in Basque refugees.

This is the context in which the intrepid figure of Leah Manning emerged, a woman who stood up to both the British government and her own Labour Party–the cause of the “pro-Communist and anti-Catholic” Spanish Republic was viewed with some suspicion in many quarters in the UK–and became actively involved in the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief,  and presided over by another prominent woman, the conservative Katherine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Lady Atholl. A key factor in Leah Manning’s involvement was the fact that she had visited Gernika two days after it had been bombed in April 1937. This influenced her decision, definitively, to get involved in the evacuation of Basque children to her homeland, jointly with the Basque government’s Department for Social Assistance.

The task was by no means easy. The British government, with the exception of providing an armed escort in international waters for the humanitarian convoys leaving Bizkaia after March 1937, consistently refused to provide any public funding to help settle and support these refugees, entrusting all this to private initiatives. In order to do this, the Basque Children’s Committee was created with the aim of coordinating resources and raising funds through charity collections, donations by well-known people, and so on. Manning and others like her carried out a mammoth task. In the end, a camp was organized in Stoneham, Southampton, to receive 4,000 people. Thus, on May 20, 1937, once the corresponding official British government permission had been granted in extremis, the Habana ocean liner could set sail from the port of Santurtzi destined for the UK, with 3,861 children aboard, accompanied by medical, auxiliary, and teaching staff. This was one of the largest human convoys organized in one go at that time.

Once on land and after several days in Stoneham, the Basque children were sent off to different parts of the UK, in dozens of charitable groups and institutions that would look after them and monitor their health.

Barely a month later, on June 19, Bilbao fell into the hands of Franco’s army and from 1938 on, little by little, most of these Basque children gradually returned home. However, many also stayed on in the UK for the rest of their lives, or only returned as adults, like Raimundo Perez Lezama, who began his professional soccer career at Southampton and was later considered one of the best ever goalkeepers for Bilbao’s emblematic team, Athletic Club.

In sum, this is a story of solidarity and social mobilization during times of war.  Like today, there were refugees fleeing a conflict, but in the face of little action on the part of governments, they found a fitting response on the part of civil society and in the necessary leadership that, through people like Leah Manning, was capable of raising the humanitarian cause over any other consideration. I hope these words serve as a suitable tribute to this courageous person.



Was the Spanish Omelet invented in the Basque Country?

Arguably the most iconic dish in Spain is the tortilla, the Spanish or potato omelet, a staple of households across the country and almost always an option–whether in pintxo or tapa form–in any bar, cafe, or restaurant you may step into. But did this humble, tasty dish actually originate in the Basque Country? While some have suggested the idea that an “egg omelet” of sorts was known during Spain’s imperial expansion in the 16th century, still others point to more concrete evidence dating from the 19th century.

The first documented mention of the tortilla dates from 1817 in a message to the Parliament of Navarre–part of a system whereby people could leave messages for the parliament to discuss–detailing the sparse living conditions of the inhabitants of the more remote mountainous areas north of the capital of Iruñea-Pamplona; specifically, the message stated that typically 2-3 eggs (and even less) were used with whatever was to hand to thicken the mixture, including potatoes or breadcrumbs, to feed between 5 and 6 people.

Still another legend states that, in 1835, during the Carlist siege of Bilbao led by Tomás Zumalacarregui, the Basque general demanded a meal at a farmhouse one day and all that was available–with most of the local food sources reduced to a bare minimum–was a few eggs, a potato, and an onion. The extekoandre or woman of the house combined the scant provisions and the resulting dish so pleased the Carlist leader that he adopted it as a quick nutritious meal for his troops.

Check out the fascinating story of Zumalacarregui in The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces, by C.F. Henningsen.

*Tortilla image by LLuisa Nunez courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Zumalacarregui image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bilbao rainwater for sale … and why not?

News comes our way of a rather unique business idea: marketing Bilbao rainwater! Why not? This is, after all, Bilbao! A city not renowned for its modesty but definitely known for its bilbainadas. As Joseba Zulaika observes in That Old Bilbao Moon (p. 180):

The bilbainada is a too-muchness that, except in Bilbao, is unaffordable. It is the city’s alter-ego behavior, the extravagant antidote to the frustrations of an understated, modest lifestyle. Going for the Guggenheim Museum was for many a typical bilbainada. What for an outsider seems a braggard’s exhibitionism is for Bilbainos ritual consumption.

As the saying goes, “The only virtue that is lacking for Bilbainos to be perfect is modesty.” It goes with such grandiosity that there can be nothing greater in life than being from Bilbao.

Just by way of clarification, if the initiative takes off, the intention is to make the product in centers for people with mental disabilities and donate part of the profits to worthy local causes. If you’d like to get your own particular bottle of Bilbao rainwater, click here.

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