Bilbao, more than just the Guggenheim

A few days ago, one of the many cultural happenings that suddenly appear on Bilbao’s event calendar took place: Open House Bilbao.

47 buildings opened their doors to let people in to discover their hidden secrets. Más Que Traductores, as is to be expected, joined in but we had to decide in many cases whether to wait in the queues or to come back in another moment.

Why the queues? Well, it seems that the inhabitants of small cities always seem to be hungry for these kinds of initiatives. And, as you’d imagine, in Bilbao everything cultural seems to centre on the Guggenheim Museum. Of course that’s understandable, but it’s certainly not the only cultural option in the city in the same way that the Arriaga Theatre is not the only place to see a play.

A lot of visitors show a little more curiosity and pay a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum). It’s a real gem of a place with medieval art and modern Basque art alongside great temporary exhibitions such as the one happening at the moment, “The Alicia Koplowitz Collection”. What’s more, the building itself and the park that surrounds it are also both worth a visit.

But there are also a lot more than just museums in the Bilbao artistic panorama: a plethora of galleries with all types of art can be found in the city centre. Among the most representative of these you can find the Sala Rekalde, the historical gallery not far from the Guggenheim where new exhibitions are continuously programmed along with workshops and multiple activities. The Alhondiga cultural centre, recently renamed as the Azkuna Zentroahouses some of the most striking exhibitions around such as the one about to arrive: “Margaret Harrison: dialogues between gender, class and violence”. And once more, the building – an old wine warehouse – is worth visiting and offers temporary cinema seasons as well as current releases, theatre plays, dance and concerts. And amongst the newest art galleries to pay a visit to are Espacio Marzana and Aldama Fabre, both in the most “hipster” zone of Bilbao on the opposite side of the river to the Casco Viejo, the old part of town.

And talking of alternative spaces, you just have to cross the river at San Antón Bridge and you’re in front of Hika Ateneo, where they not only host debates about sexuality, identity and immigration but also have book presentations, concerts and socially-motivated events. Going back to the river and passing by the Mercado de la Ribera (the Ribera Market), cross the river at the Merced Bridge and you’ll come across the mythical Bilborock, a one-time church that puts on rock concerts and hosts Zinegoak, Bilbao’s gay film festival. And if we continue our route along the river – Bilbao’s tidal river acts as an artery to the city – and go to the other side of the city, we enter what is for the moment the peninsula of Zorrotzaurre, soon to become an island and the latest area in Bilbao set for urban redevelopment. But for now it preserves its identity as a pseudo port with skeletons of old workshops and factories fallen into disuse. One of them, namely the Fábrica de Artiach (Artiach Factory), provides refuge every Sunday to the Open Your Ganbara (Open Your Wardrobe) market. It’s a meeting place for all types of people and tribes and gives you the opportunity to find out about the latest cultural goings-on at the same time as coming across a record, comic, t-shirt or Spiderman toy from the 70s. In one of the nearby buildings you’ll find Zawp –  Zorrotzaurre Art Work in Progress – which La Hacería forms part of: both cultural movements that work to promote social, economic and cultural regeneration in the neighbourhood with a wealth of activities. What’s more, they are neighbours to Pabellon 6, a self-managed alternative centre for the Performing Arts, with its tiny and personal rooms that retain that feeling of being located in disused factory workshops. And going back to the centre of the city, again by the river, we find ourselves next to Deusto bridge and La Fundición which, for the last 30 years, has specialized in bringing contemporary dance to the city.

But there’s more: festivals for all tastes including short films, documentaries, horror and fantasy films and “mountain” cinema as well as women’s films and movies about minorities. The best thing is to plan your visit taking all of this into account and be well informed about what’s cooking in the city during your stay.

Bilbao, more than just the Guggenheim
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