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Regional route Basque Country | Spain

The Basque Country is one of the most prosperous regions in southern Europe. With approximately 2 million inhabitants, this region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula is formed of three provinces (Álava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa). The industrialisation process started in 1841, coinciding with the move of ... more

Basque Country

The Basque Country is one of the most prosperous regions in southern Europe. With approximately 2 million inhabitants, this region in the north of the Iberian Peninsula is formed of three provinces (Álava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa). The industrialisation process started in 1841, coinciding with the move of the Spanish customs posts to the coast and the border with France. A series of factors favoured the economic modernisation of the region: easy access to central Spain, the existence in Bilbao of the best maritime port in the Cantabrian Sea and the valuable iron ore deposits, which were decisive in the industrial development of the Basque Country.

Nevertheless, the industrialisation of the Basque Country did not proceed at the same rate in the three Basque provinces, Álava, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. Consequently, the industrial heritage handed down is extremely rich and  varied..

Bizkaia

Bizkaia has been characterised by massive mining of its iron resources and the expansion of heavy industry through major industrial businesses located in the vicinity of the Bilbao Estuary. The three-way combination of the “mining – iron and steel - naval construction” industries has defined the industrial structure of Bizkaia.

The impact of the British demand for iron ore with a low phosphorus content (ideal for producing Bessemer steel) fostered the development of the most important iron and steel industry in the South of Europe. Linked to this, another key sector of the industrial development of Bizkaia was maritime transport. From the beginning of the 20th century, a modern fleet of iron-hull vessels was built for exporting the iron ore and Bessemer steel ingots to England, Belgium and France.

The most representative industrial activity of Bizkaia was perhaps the iron and steel industry. The foundries gave way to modern iron and steelworks, first with blast furnaces fired by charcoal and then by coal. Following the invention of the Bessemer procedure, iron ore with a low phosphorus content such as was found in the Bizkaia mines attracted the attention of foreign capitalists, and was exported in large quantities mainly to England. However, the local bourgeoisie also began to invest in the construction of local iron and steel plants located in the vicinity of the Bilbao Estuary. Of these, the main industrial company in the Basque Country was Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, the largest iron and steel works in the South of Europe and a symbol of Basque industrialisation.

The vicinity of the Bilbao Estuary was one of the largest industrial concentrations in Europe, making a significant contribution to defining the present-day character and nature of Basque Society. The strength, work and energy that was once found along the fifteen kilometres of the Estuary assume a unique value as they were witness to a tough but epic past. The industrial heritage that marks both banks of the Estuary, linked to the fact that it is situated in a mining zone, is a silent witness to what was once a scene of intense industrial and mining activity. The former mines, factories, machinery, railways, quays, docks and loading bays which remain are of great historical, cultural, technological, social and scientific value and also have significant potential for tourism.

The No 1 Blast Furnace of Altos Hornos de Vizcaya in Sestao, the Pabellón Ilgner in Barakaldo and Bizkaia Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, cannot be understood in isolation from the work in foundries such as that of El Pobal or that of the miners in La Arboleda or la Corta Bodovalle, located in the Basque Country Mining Museum. Nor is it possible to describe the industrial development of the Basque Country without including the industrial bourgeoisie who built their luxury mansions in Getxo, and the thousands of workers who settled in working-class neighbourhoods all along the left bank of the Bilbao Estuary. And of course the naval sector which converted the Bilbao estuary into the lifeline of the Basque Country with the trading of products and raw materials and from which a rich heritage has been conserved in the vicinity of the Ría de Bilbao Maritime Museum.

Gipuzkoa

On the other hand in Gipuzkoa small and medium-sized companies were more predominant. These were often family-run, and offered greater sectoral versatility and they helped to boost and promote the area in the regional and Spanish market. They includeda varied range of metal processing together with textile, paper, arms, consumer goods and cement industries.

Although smaller in size compared to the Bizkaian plants, an important iron and steel industry was also developed from the mining of different reserves. These include the Zerain, Mutiloa, Arditurri and Irugurutzeta mines, all of which can be visited today. Similarly, the earlier forging tradition of these plants was of great significance in Gipuzkoa, in particular Mirandaola forgery in Legazpi, one of the main industrial areas of Gipuzkoa. Here it is possible to visit the workers’ route, the Agorregi Mills and Ironworks in Beasain, the origin of today's powerful railway industry, perfectly represented in one of the best railway museums in Spain, the Basque Railway Museum in Azpeitia, or Agorregi foundry, in the heart of Pagoeta Natural Park.

The firearms sector is also an important part of the metal processing industry. Pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns are the main products manufactured, particularly in Eibar, Elgoibar, Soraluze and Ermua. At the start of the 20th century, these cities experienced a transformation in their industrial activities moving towards the manufacture of new products following the arms crisis. The move tended towards the manufacture of bicycles, sewing machines, domestic appliances and machine tools. This process of transformation and reinvention can be visited and discovered in the Eibar Arms Industry Museum and Elgoibar Machine Tool Museum.

The naval sector was also a feature of industrialisation in Gipuzkoa, although this assumed a more traditional profile and was linked to the fishing industry. Pasaia Bay, the location of the Albaola Basque Maritime Factory and the Eko-Activo Mater ship, is one of the most typical maritime settings of Guipuzcoan industrialisation, not to mention the Basque Maritime Museum found in the historic fishing port of Donostia-San Sebastián.

Álava

Although nowadays Vitoria-Gasteiz is the industrial capital of the Basque Country, Álava, unlike its sister provinces, did not start to become industrialised until the first half of the 20th century when the characteristic sectors of the Second Industrial Revolution including the oil, chemicals, car and electricity industries started to develop. Nevertheless, historically Álava was important for the development and expansion of the agrifood sector: the flour industry, winemaking, spirits and liquors, sugar and the salt mines. On the one hand there was the former factory of Ajuria and Urigoitia, manufacturer of agricultural machinery, and which installed the first blast furnaces in the Basque Country and, on the other hand, Añana Salt Valley, 30 km from Vitoria-Gasteiz, one of the oldest industries in the world as salt has been produced here for more than 7000 years.

The route

In spite of the differences in the industrialisation process in the three Basque provinces, the Basque regional route connects 33 interesting  sites which are the best examples of its rich industrial heritage. These museums and landscapes summarise and explain the industrial sectors which were key to the social and economic development of the Basque Country: from mining landscapes to foundries and iron and steel works, via the naval and agrifood industries, and not forgetting civil engineering and the railways. All these elements have shaped a unique landscape which deserves to be preserved, presented and passed on to future generations as well as visitors wishing to find out more about our history.

Consequently, there is no specific start point for the route. Each of the three provinces may have their own start point. In any case, the common theme for understanding industrialisation in the Basque Country must start with iron ore mining and its processing in the ancient forgeries and then in the iron and steel works, its trade and transport to foreign markets and its transformation into consumer goods for the regional market. Finally, it is worth mentioning that a large number of different initiatives in the region have joined forces to conserve and present their industrial heritage. Their networks and websites are full of additional interesting information.

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Balmaseda | Spain
Rushing transmission belts, buzzing yarn reels, the rattling of the mechanical looms – it was that kind of noise that used to shape the everyday life of the Basque textile mill La Encartada near Bilbao for 100 years. Luckily, almost the entire equipment, predominantly dating to the decades around ...
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La Encartada Fabrika-Museoa
El Peñueco 11
48800 Balmaseda, Spain

Abanto-Zierbena | Spain
The Asociación Cultural Meuseo Minero (Cultural Association for the Mining Museum) was established in 1986 as mining was finally coming to an end, and opened the museum in 2001. Its headquarters is in an old slaughterhouse near a vast open-cast pit, Corta Concha II, from which siderite (iron ...
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Mining Museum of the Basque Country
Museo de la Minería del País Vasco
Barrio Campodiego s/n
48500 Abanto-Zierbena, Spain

The industrial landscape resulted from the iron smelting activities of Ajuria & Urigoitia, one of the first steel mills in the country. Visitors have the chance to see the state’s first electric induction furnace and the first blast furnace of Euskadi. Situated at the entrance to the Aizkorri-Aratz ...
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Ajuria & Urigoitia Industrial Forest
Intuxi, 48
01250 Araia, Spain

Azpeitia | Spain
At the Basque Railway Museum you can find out about the history of Basque railway companies, from steam trains to modern Metro Bilbao units. You can also discover how steam engines work and the importance of public transport to sustainable development. The museum houses all types of rolling stock, ...
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Basque Railway Museum
Museo Vasco del Ferrocarril
Julián Elorza, 8
20730 Azpeitia, Spain

The Ilgner building is the only building still standing out of Barakaldo’s entire Altos Hornos de Vizcaya (AHV) steel works complex which was used for production. It is a concrete building, both monumental and grandiose thanks to its construction materials and its plan. It was built in 1927 to house ...
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Ilgner Electrical Transformers Building
Avenida Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, 33
48901 Barakaldo, Spain

The Igartza monument complex has its origins in the 14th century, when the Lord of Lazcano built a tower and a wooden bridge. The monuments that we see today date from the 16th and 17th centuries, and the complex includes a palace, mill, forge, dam, hermitage, bridge, cross and the Hotel Dolarea.  ...
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The Igartza Monumental Complex
Igartzako Monumentu Multzoa
Igartzako plaza, 1
20200 Beasain, Spain

Bilbao | Spain
Bilbao Maritime Museum is located on the former site of the outbuildings of the Euskalduna shipyard. Its purpose is to preserve and present the history, culture, and identity of the men and women who have lived on and from the sea in Bilbao and Biscay, areas with a strong maritime tradition. The ...
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Bilbao Maritime Museum
Muelle Ramón de la Sota 1
48013 Bilbao, Spain

Konsoni Lantegia is a warehouse where the Basque Government Department of Culture and Linguistic Policy stores all the industrial movable material considered to be Cultural Heritage. Visitors to this old store can find around 2000 items: old motorbikes, fire trucks, linotype machines and printing ...
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Konsoni Lantegia. Basque Country Industrial Heritage Warehouse
Konsoni Lantegia, Depósito de Patrimonio Industrial de Euskadi
Ribera de Zorrotzaurre, 20
48014 Bilbao, Spain

Donostia-San Sebastián | Spain
The Basque Maritime Museum is located in one of the few buildings that survived when the city was burned to the ground by British and Portuguese troops after the siege of 1813. The museum has no permanent exhibition but annually presents several large temporary exhibitions on the Basque maritime ...
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Basque Maritime Museum
Museo Marítimo Vasco
Kaiko pasealekua, 24
20003 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain

Donostia-San Sebastian | Spain
The oldest cable car in Euskadi covers 312.5 metres at a speed of 1.5 m/s, climbing 151 metres. It was opened on 25 August 1912, and its wooden carriages still conserve the charm of that period. From the base of the mountain, the cable car takes you directly to the panoramic terraces of Mount ...
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Monte Igueldo Cable Car
Funicular Monte Igueldo
Plaza del Funicular, 4
2008 Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

Donostia-San Sebastián | Spain
The cement museum at Donostia was established in 2000 by the company which now forms part of the Heidelberg group, and still has a plant in Donostia-San Sebastián. The museum occupies a modern building and its displays tell the story of mortars from antiquity to the present day, with particular ...
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Rezola Cement Museum
Museum Cemento Rezola
36 Añorga Hiribidea
20018 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain

Eibar | Spain
The town of Eibar boasts an arms-making tradition, particularly finely engraved small arms, that spans several centuries. Located on the 5th floor of the former arms factory 'Aguirre y Aranzabal' the museum gives visitors an insight into the evolution of the town's industrial past and technological ...
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Arms Industry Museum
Museo de la Industria Armea
Bista Eder 10
20600 Eibar, Spain

Elgoibar | Spain
The museum consists of the "1900 machining workshop", "the smithy" and the exhibition and learning room, where the technological evolution of the industry is shown in an educational and documentary way. With its facilities and machines in operation, it uniquely presents manufacturing procedures, ...
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Museum of the Machine Tool
Museo Máquina-Herramienta
Azkue Auzoa, 1
20870 Elgoibar, Spain

A short distance from the city of Bilbao in the county of Las Encartaciones, stands, in an idyllic forest landscape, the majestic Tower of Loizaga. Built in the 14th century during the Biscay fractional wars, this exceptional historical landmark currently consists of a 25 metre high tower surrounded ...
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Museum of Classic and Vintage Cars Torre Loizaga
Museo de Coches Antiguos y Clásicos
Barrio Concejuelo s/n
48191 Galdames, Spain

Gesaltza-Añana | Spain
Saltmakers in the valley of the Anana Salt Flats, like those in many parts of Europe, used wind and sun to produce white salt by evaporating brine, but the area was quite exception in its use of terraces and high timber structures supporting evaporating pans and the channels that fed them with brine ...
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Añana Salt Valley
Calle Real 42
01426 Gesaltza-Añana, Spain

Getxo | Spain
Europe’s first transporter bridge, one where vehicles are conveyed across a river on a gondola suspended from a high-level span of steel girders, crosses the River Nervion, or Ria de Bilbao, between the communities of Portugalete and Getxo, downstream from the city of Bilbao. It was designed by the ...
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Bizkaia Bridge
Puente Bizkaia | Puente Colgante
48930 Getxo, Spain

Getxo | Spain
Along the Quays of Las Arenas and Arriluze you can discover some of the best examples of its mansion-house architecture, built during the halcyon days of this neighbourhood of Getxo, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The mines, the blast Furnaces, the transport, the ...
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The Big Villas Promenade
Muelle de Las Arenas
48930 Getxo, Spain

Irun | Spain
Man has been using minerals from Aiako Harria since Roman times. At the beginning of the 20th century major mining activities were initiated in the Irun hills. Iron carbonate was mined from the Meazuri, Meagorri, Aitzondo and Basakaitz galleries to be burnt in the Iruguretza furnaces and converted ...
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Irugurutzeta Furnaces
Hornos de Irugurutzeta
Meaka 110-Ibarla
20305 Irun, Spain

Karrantza | Spain
In 1956 exploitation began of the Donosa quarry located in the Peña de Ranero mountain, next to the Pozalagua Caves.  The mineral dolomite was extracted from the quarry andthen transported to the Ambasaguas district by cable car. There stood the dolomite factory with the unloading station and the ...
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Dolomitas Museum
Museo Dolomitas
C/Ambasaguas S/N
48891 Karrantza, Spain

The Lea river begins on the northern slope of the Oiz Mountains and at Lekeitio flows into the Cantabian Sea. It is a short river, but its hydropower has been used since the 14th century for the operation of forges and mills. Even today, the remains of buildings, barrages and inflow trenches of ...
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Lea River's Industrial Landscape with Marierrota Tide Mill
Sendero del Lea | Molino de Marierrota
Lekeitio, Spain

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