Some of you will have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to stroll through the Doña Casilda Park in Bilbao. But do you know after whom the park was named? Casilda Margarita de Iturrizar y Urquijo was one of he most important and influential women in the city in the nineteenth century, and it is her story we recount today.
Although born into a family of reasonable economic means, following the bankruptcy, jail, and eventual death of her father in 1833, Casilda Iturrizar was obliged to find work and obtained a position as a servant in the household of one of Bilbao’s richest entrepreneurs and a co-founder of the historic Bank of Bilbao, Tomás José Joaquín de Epalza y Zubaran. Although married, Epalza eventually went through a lengthy divorce process, stretching from 1849 to 1857. In 1859, Casilda and Tomás were married. After his death in 1873, she started signing her name “Epalza’s widow” and, with the couple not having had any children, proceeded gradually to donate most of the incredible fortune she had inherited to worthy causes and cultural initiatives. She herself died in 1900.
She funded the building of schools and a hospital, sponsored operatic societies and religious bodies, and created grants for deserving students from poor backgrounds as well as funding part of the original institution that would become the University of Deusto and being a major investor in the construction of the Arriaga Theater. And what is more, she also donated a significant piece of land in central Bilbao to the City Council, which ultimately became the park named in her honor that was opened in 1920.
Excluding maritime dedications, she is reputed to be the only person to have two public spaces named in her honor in Bilbao: the aforementioned park and a street by the name of Epalza’s Widow.