Tag: History of Bilbao

November 24, 1912: False fire alarm leads to multiple deaths in Bilbao theater stampede

On November 24, 1912, forty-six people, almost all of them children, died in the Ensanche Circus Theater of Bilbao as the result of a stampede of spectators attempting to flee the building. Someone had shouted out a fire alarm, which ultimately proved to be false.

The Circus Theater, located close to what is today the Plaza Elíptica, had been constructed in 1895 on the site of what had been a circus. While dedicated mainly to popular entertainment shows it was also a sports venue, and by the second decade of the twentieth century it was also showing movies.

On Sunday, November 24, 1912, the theater schedule included a continuous screening of movies between 3:00 pm and midnight, at prices accessible to people of all social classes and children old enough to go to the movies on their own.  Shortly after 6:00 pm a voice shouted out “fire!” This resulted in widespread panic as spectators attempted to flee the packed theater, only to encounter two of the three emergency exits locked. In total, forty-four children and two adults died in the stampede. Funerals for the victims, at which a reported forty thousand people attended, were held on November 27 and all expenses were covered by the Bilbao city council.

The theater itself was demolished in 1914 by official order on account of not fulfilling the required safety norms. In 1916, Bilbao city council constructed a mausoleum on the site where the victims had been buried.

Sources

Julio Arrieta, “Cuarenta y cuatro ataúdes blancos,” El Correo, November 18, 2012.

Una falsa alarma desembocó en tragedia,” Conoce Bilbao con Esme (blog), November 24, 2018.

November 11, 1995: Inauguration of the Bilbao Metro

On November 11, 1995 Line 1 of the Bilbao Metro–one of the emblematic features of the city–started operating on a route between Zazpikaleak/Casco Viejo (the Seven Streets or Old Quarter) in the heart of the city and the coastal town of Plentzia, approximately eighteen miles away.

Interior view of Abando station, Bilbao Metro. Photo by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Interior view of Abando station, Bilbao Metro. Photo by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although plans to construct a metro service in Bilbao date back to the 1920s, it was only in the late 1987 that a construction project was finally approved. Construction in Bilbao itself began in 1987, with the inaugural Line 1 destined to connect the city center with the right bank of Greater Bilbao and the coastal communities stretching out to Plentzia. When the first part of Line 1 eventually opened for business in November 1995, twenty-three stations served this route.

The Bilbao Metro runs both under and overground. Here, a train is departing from Bolueta station toward the Etxebarri tunnel. Photo by Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Bilbao Metro runs both under and overground. Here, a train is departing from Bolueta station toward the Etxebarri tunnel. Photo by Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today, there are three Lines operating in and around Greater Bilbao, with studies being carried out on potentially adding two more lines in the future. As of 2018, there were forty-one stations throughout the network, which covers 43 km (28 miles) of route. Total passenger figures for 2017 were 88,172,137.

A fosterito Bilbao Metro entrance, Bagatza station. Photo by Ardo Beltz. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A fosterito Bilbao Metro entrance, Bagatza station. Photo by Ardo Beltz. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Bilbao Metro is especially noteworthy for its fosterito glass entrances, designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster, and in 1998 Sarriko station won the prestigious Brunel Award for Railway Design.

Check out the Bilbao Metro website here.

The CBS publishes Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal. This original work discusses transportation and logistics as key elements of the political economy, and places the topic at the center of much ongoing debate about national identity.

See, too, more broadly on Bilbao, urban regeneration, and architecture: That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City by Joseba Zulaika (available free to download here), Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi, and  Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain.

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.

 

 

Bilbao wharf renamed in honor of women boat-haulers

A major site in the historically important neighborhood of Olabeaga in Bilbao was recently renamed in honor of the women who used to physically haul all kinds of vessels into central BIlbao.

A representation of the sirgueras.

With the industrial development of Bilbao through the nineteenth century, so there was a major increase in shipping traffic into the heart of the city via the Nervion Estuary. However, at the point where the estuary ran through the Olabeaga neighborhood, the river was so silted up that larger boats could not complete the final stretch that would take them into the center of the city. As a response to the problem, groups of men were hired to undertake the backbreaking work of physically hauling smaller vessels by means of a sirga (towrope) along that final stretch toward downtown Bilbao. Yet with the outbreak of the Carlist Wars and the exodus of men from the city, this work was taken up by women. The sirgueras (zirgariak in Basque) who came to do this work were cheaper to hire than men and could be hired in the moment; there was no need to employ them on a permanent basis. Check out the short movie Zirgariak (2006), by filmmakers Fernando Bernal “Ferber” and Urko Olazabal, which portrays just what this job entailed.

Working in such conditions of hard physical labor and  in the dirty conditions of an ever more polluted river, this was work that was looked down upon socially; whether men or women, the people who undertook it were considered ganapanes, humble laborers who earned just enough to cover their daily needs: at the very least, a loaf of bread. This partly explains why these women, in particular, have been excluded from the major narrative of the industrial development of Bilbao.

The newly named wharf, the Muelle Sirgueras / Zirgariak Kaia, stands as a testament to this forgotten collective.