Bilbao, Basque Country (Spain)

Oct 03, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

As the National Geographic Orion entered the Port of Bilbao, a mysterious foggy and dark morning remembered the old decaying and polluted industrial city that it was in late 20th century. The old British freight docks and steel factories, having begun to tap into its immense iron deposits in the 19th century and then quickly becoming the shipbuilding center for over half of the entire Spanish merchant fleet, were closed down in the post-Franco economic restructuring. It gave an opportunity to start thinking on a new modern city, and therefore, a long process of urban renewal and reinvention was planned to present the city and the Basques as a modern people of vision and taste, with an eye to the future.

The impressive Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by the Californian architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, started this ambitious process marking an important turning point of the history of Bilbao. The museum, built in titanium, steel, and limestone alongside the Nervion River that runs through the city to the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture in the world and it was a huge success in gaining international recognition. That was called “the Bilbao Effect”, which is essentially the attention that something grandiose and entirely different brings to a location.

The transformation of the city from a grimy, economically stagnant backwater into a scintillating modern city of culture is one of the new millennium’s most heartening urban success stories. Nowadays, Bilbao is the beating heart of the economical activities in the Basque Country, as well as the region’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.

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About the Author

Eñaut Izagirre


Originally from Elgoibar near the Basque Coast, Eñaut grew up on the rocky mountains of the Basque Country and the Pyrenees, where his fascination to the landscape and gorgeous mountains led him to study Geography at the University of the Basque Country.  Then, he continued his studies in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia, where he lived from 2013 to 2016 studying a MSc in Glaciology and working as a researcher at the Universidad de Magallanes. He completed his MSc thesis on the neoglacial advances of the Marinelli glacier in the Cordillera Darwin and he participated in numerous sailing, kayaking and climbing expeditions into this remote mountain range and the Patagonian channels and fjords.

About the Photographer

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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