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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 has been characterised by massive mining of its iron ore 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.


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.


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.


ERIH Anchor Points

Azpeitia | Spain

Want to be a stoker on a historic steam engine? ...

Basque Railway Museum
Museo Vasco del Ferrocarril
Julián Elorza, 8
20730 Azpeitia, Spain

Balmaseda | Spain

Rushing transmission belts, buzzing yarn reels, ...

La Encartada Fabrika-Museoa
El Peñueco 11
48800 Balmaseda, Spain

Salinas de Añana | Spain

Wood, clay and stones - out of this, the salt ...

Añana Salt Valley
Valle Salado de Añana
Calle Real 42
01426 Salinas de Añana, Spain

Member Sites ERIH Association

Abanto-Zierbena | Spain

The Asociación Cultural Meuseo Minero (Cultural ...

Mining Museum of the Basque Country
Museo de la Minería del País Vasco
Barrio Campodiego s/n
48500 Abanto-Zierbena, Spain

Aia | Spain

Standing in the heart of Pagoeta Natural Park, ...

Agorregi Ironworks and Mill
Ferrería y Molinos de Agorregi
Pagoeta Natural Park Laurgain Auzoa Barreiatua, 13
20809 Aia, Spain

Araia | Spain

The industrial landscape resulted from the iron ...

Ajuria & Urigoitia Industrial Forest
Intuxi, 48
01250 Araia, Spain

Barakaldo | Spain

The Ilgner building is the only building still ...

Ilgner Electrical Transformers Building
Avenida Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, 33
48901 Barakaldo, Spain

Beasain | Spain

The Igartza monument complex has its origins in ...

The Igartza Monumental Complex
Igartzako Monumentu Multzoa
Igartzako plaza, 1
20200 Beasain, Spain

Bilbao | Spain

Itsasmuseum Bilbao is located on the former ...

Itsasmuseum Bilbao
Euskal Itsas Museoa
Muelle Ramón de la Sota 1
48013 Bilbao, Spain

Donostia-San Sebastián | Spain

The Basque Maritime Museum is located in one of ...

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 ...

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 ...

Rezola Cement Museum
Museum Cemento Rezola
36 Añorga Hiribidea
20018 Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain

Eibar | Spain

The town of Eibar boasts an arms-making ...

Arms Industry Museum
Museo de la Industria Armea
Bista Eder 10
20600 Eibar, Spain

Elgoibar | Spain

The museum consists of the "1900 machining ...

Museum of the Machine Tool
Museo Máquina-Herramienta
Azkue Bailara, 1
20870 Elgoibar, Spain

Galdames | Spain

A short distance from the city of Bilbao in the ...

Museum of Classic and Vintage Cars Torre Loizaga
Museo de Coches Antiguos y Clásicos
Barrio Concejuelo s/n
48191 Galdames, Spain

Getxo | Spain

Europe’s first transporter bridge, one where ...

Bizkaia Bridge World Heritage Site
Puente Bizkaia | Puente Colgante
48930 Getxo, Spain

Getxo | Spain

Along the Quays of Las Arenas and Arriluze you ...

The Big Villas Promenade
Muelle de Las Arenas
48930 Getxo, Spain

Irun | Spain

Man has been using minerals from Aiako Harria ...

Irugurutzeta Furnaces
Hornos de Irugurutzeta
Meaka 110-Ibarla
20305 Irun, Spain

Karrantza | Spain

In 1956 exploitation began of the Donosa quarry ...

Dolomitas Museum
Museo Dolomitas
C/Ambasaguas S/N
48891 Karrantza, Spain

Legazpi | Spain

Legazpi, 45 km south-west of San Sebastian, is ...

Mirandoala Iron Valley
Valle del hierro
Mirandaola Parkea Telleriate auzoa, z/g
20230 Legazpi, Spain

Lekeitio | Spain

The Lea river begins on the northern slope of ...

Lea River's Industrial Landscape with Marierrota Tide Mill
Sendero del Lea | Molino de Marierrota
Lekeitio, Spain

Lekeitio | Spain

The centre of interpretation of the techniques ...

Santa Katalina Lighthouse Interpretation Centre
Faro de Santa Catalina
Avenida Santa Katalina, 65
48280 Lekeitio, Spain

Lutxana-Barakaldo | Spain

The Department of Culture and Language Policy ...

Orkonera-Lutxana. Basque Country Industrial Heritage Warehouse
Orkonera-Lutxana, Depósito de Patrimonio Industrial mueble de Euskadi
Andikollano, 33
48903 Lutxana-Barakaldo, Spain

Muskiz | Spain

El Pobal Ironworks, a 500 years old foundry, is ...

El Pobal Ironworks
Ferrería de El Pobal
48550 Muskiz, Spain

Oiartzun | Spain

The mining galleries of Arditurri are one of ...

Arditurri Mine Land
Arditurriko meazuloak
Arditurri Bidea, 3
20180 Oiartzun, Spain

Ormaiztegi | Spain

The Mutiloa mining reserve extended its ...

Mutiloa Mines and Ormaiztegi’s Viaduct
Muxika Egurastokia
20212 Ormaiztegi, Spain

Pasai San Pedro | Spain

Albaola the Maritime Heritage Factory is a ...

Albaola the Maritime Heritage Factory
Ondartxo pasealekua 1
20110 Pasai San Pedro, Spain

Pasaia | Spain

MATER is the last big Basque wooden tuna ship. ...

'Mater' Ecoactive Museum Tuna Boat
MATER Barco Museo Ecoactivo
Arraunlari kalea z/g
20110 Pasaia, Spain

Portugalete | Spain

Portugalete is a municipality on the south–west ...

RIALIA: Museum of Industry
RIALIA: Museo de la Industria
Paseo de la Canilla
48920 Portugalete, Spain

Santurtzi | Spain

The Fisherman’s Guild has been traditionally ...

Museum of the Sea | 'Agurtza' Fishing Boat
Santurtzi Itsasoa Museoa
Puerto Pesquero 20
48980 Santurtzi, Spain

Sestao | Spain

Blast furnace no. 1 is the most important ...

Blast Furnace No 1
Horno alto número 1
Calle Txabarri
48910 Sestao, Spain

Trapagaran | Spain

The Larreineta Cliff Railway was built in 1926 ...

Larreineta Cliff Railway
Funicular Larreineta
Funicular kalea, 30
48510 Trapagaran, Spain