On September 3, 1902, the Euskalduna company launched its first ship, the “Portu,” a barge for use by the important Altos Hornos de Vizcaya foundry. Euskalduna, a marine engineering company whose full name was Euskalduna de Construcción y Reparación de Buques de Bilbao, would go on to become one of the most renowned features of the Basque industrial landscape with its headquarters in the heart of Bilbao. It opened for business in 1900 and finally closed in 1988 after a four-year period of severe confrontations  between workers and police over the decision to close the shipyard.

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Aerial view of Bilbao in the 1950s during a new era of expansion for Euskalduna, shown here top left in the picture beside the bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During that time, the company enjoyed mixed fortunes: a boom in the World War I era and beyond that tailed off by the 1930s; growth again in the 1950s and 1960s, with Euskalduna contributing 50% of the capital to a new statewide conglomerate, Astilleros Españoles, which by the late 1960s would be one of the largest shipbuilding companies in Europe; and, ultimately, decline again in the 1970s following the 1973 oil crisis and increasing competition from East Asia. When the decision was taken to close the shipyard in 1984, the workers there engaged in direct confrontation in an effort to maintain their jobs. These confrontations, as well as many negotiations including labor unions, management, and the public administration, went on for four years and this intense period came to define much of Bilbao’s social history in the 1980s.

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Central Bilbao today, with the Euskalduna Conference Centre, the reddish building, to the far right of the picture and the Bilbao maritime Museum behind that. Picture by Ben Bore (Rhys), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Following the closure of the shipyard, the emblematic site that had been so important in the industrial history and legacy of Bilbao was converted into a leisure area: today it houses both the Euskalduna Conference Centre and the Bilbao Maritime Museum. The site itself, then, continues to form a central part of the Bilbao economy, although now in a postindustrial and leisure-oriented framework.

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The “Carola” crane, installed in 1957 in the Euskalduna shipyard, it was and still is an important part of the cityscape. Today, though,  it forms part of the Bilbao Maritime Museum. Photo by Txo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, Joseba Zulika shares a very personal view of Bilbao and its historical transformations. And for more on Bilbao and the urban changes associated with the city through time, check out Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.