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Abandoibarra Etorbidea 2, 48009 Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain

GPS: 43.268841757705, -2.9333950916942

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The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is one of the most prominent contemporary buildings in Western Europe. The building’s avant-garde architecture was designed in the early 1990s by American-Canadian architect Frank Gehry, in close collaboration with the Basque Government and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. This museum with its theatrical curves gives an impression of movement and is the pride of the Bilbotarrak, the people of Bilbao. It is the architectural jewel of the Basque Country and is the result of an astonishing combination of titanium, steel, glass and stone.

The location of the Guggenheim Museum in the old port area of Bilbao was not chosen by chance. It is part of a vast plan to revitalize this Basque industrial city. The shape of the building symbolizes a ship proudly anchored on the banks of the river Nervión. The museum is built just below La Salve Bridge, built in the early 1970s and which seems to merge completely with the massive structure of the prestigious art gallery. To commemorate the Guggenheim Museum’s 10th anniversary, this bridge is literally integrated into the cultural site with the addition of a large red doorway by French artist Daniel Buren. With its worldwide success, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is transforming the face and image of the capital of the province of Biscay in just a few years. Its influence on the metamorphosis of Bilbao is such that some specialists have come to speak of an undeniable “Guggenheim effect” in terms of the economic, architectural, artistic and cultural impact of the museum.

Since the opening of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 1997 after four years of construction, certain artistic works such as Jeff Koons’ floral sculpture in the shape of a giant dog or Louise Bourgeois’ immense 9-metre high spider have become the major elements in its collection. The museographic space is organized around a vast 50-metre high atrium and houses mainly monumental sculptures in large spaces. It is made up of 20 modern and contemporary art galleries spread over 3 floors. In total, more than 11,000 square metres of exhibition space at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao are dedicated to the artistic creators of the 20th and 21st centuries. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary in 2017, this satellite site of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York recorded a new attendance record, with 1.3 million people visiting the museum, more than half of them are international visitors.

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  • The innovative architecture of the building reflecting Bilbao’s maritime and industrial past; the wavy shapes with a strong iconic identity; the titanium skin façade
  • The permanent exhibition of the artist Richard Serra (The Matter of Time) in the large gallery, 130 metres long and 30 metres wide
  • The giant 12 metre-high Puppy dog and its mosaic of flowers; the intimidating 9 metre-high Mummy spider at the entrance to the museum; the sculpture Tall Tree and the Eye, positioned in front of one of the façades and composed of 73 reflecting spheres; the red arch of the Salve Bridge
  • The atrium, the museum’s vast central courtyard
  • The high ceilings, vast volumes and wide open spaces of the exhibition rooms
  • Free guided tours organized every day (general or express); catering services and cloakrooms; the museum library specializing in contemporary art; the 300-seat auditorium
  • Entertainment and recreational areas regularly settled around the museum (concerts, sports events, play areas, fountains…)
  • The walk along the river Nervión towards the old town of Bilbao (casco viejo); the view of the museum from the glass bridge
  • The various curiosities of the Basque city: the old district of Bilbao (casco viejo) and its famous Ribera market (its market halls are home to one of the largest covered markets in Europe); the pretty houses decorating the Neguri district; the view over the city from the Artxanda mountain (accessible by cable car); the Basque Museum (historical, archaeological and ethnographic collections); the Basilica of Begoña (built in the 16th century)…
  • The undulating outer walls and titanium curves of the Guggenheim Museum building are designed to capture and reflect the light emitted by the sun. The preparatory drawings for the museum are said to have been designed solely by computer, based on Metropolis (a black-and-white silent film directed by Fritz Lang in 1927).
  • In the days leading up to the opening of the museum in 1997, a terrorist attack was foiled by Spanish authorities. 3 members of the Basque separatist organisation ETA, disguised as gardeners, were in charge of hiding flower pots filled with grenades. They were planning to detonate them remotely in order to assassinate the Spanish King Juan Carlos I during the official ceremony. This planned attack was aborted thanks to the intervention of two Basque policemen, but one of them was killed on the spot (Jose María Aguirre). The square in front of the Guggenheim Museum is now named in his memory.
  • Created by the American artist Jeff Koons, a giant dog weighing about 16 tons guards the doors of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. It was first exhibited in Germany in 1992 and installed on Sydney Harbour (Australia) three years later before the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation acquired it in 1997 for its new museum in Bilbao. Nicknamed Puppy, this sculpture represents a West Highland White Terrier (or Westie) in the form of a stainless steel structure decorated with a superb floral arrangement. The 38,000 flowers in this work of art grow naturally and are renewed twice a year (in May and October). They are reminiscent of the classical gardens of the 18th century.
  • In late June 2021, the museum launched its first crowdfunding campaign to help restore the Puppy dog sculpture. A sum of €100,000 is hoped to repair the irrigation system and part of the stainless steel structure.
  • The monumental sculpture of a spider in the forecourt of the museum is a tribute by the French-American artist Louise Bourgoin to her own mother (she worked as a weaver and restorer of tapestries). Nicknamed “Mama”, this piece of art made of bronze, marble and stainless steel is meant to evoke maternal strength through the actions of spinning, weaving, feeding and protecting. Other spiders created by this sculptor can be seen in various cities around the world, including Kansas City (United States), Ottawa (Canada), London (United Kingdom), Saint Petersburg (Russia), Doha (Qatar), Seoul (South Korea) and Tokyo (Japan).
  • In the future, museum director Juan Ignacio Vidarte (who has been at the head of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao since the project began more than 20 years ago) is planning an extension outside the walls, which would be modular, in order to offer visitors new space and interactive experiences.
  • Successful architect Frank Gehry has been responsible for other monuments to the deconstructivist art movement around the world, such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (France), the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis (United States) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (United States).
  • The Guggenheim name is known around the world for its many foundations and unique exhibition places from an architectural point of view. According to the Swiss writer Gilberte Favre (author of the book “Guggenheim Saga, from Switzerland to America”), this creative and entrepreneurial family originated in the small Swiss village of Lengnau in the Canton of Aargau. She came from very modest German Jewish descendants and suffered from numerous discriminations, restrictions and social inequalities in the first half of the 19th century. It was in the United States, where the family migrated in 1847, that she began to emancipate herself. The Guggenheim became wealthy in the sale of St. Gallen embroidery (from Switzerland) to the city of Philadelphia. At the end of the 19th century, Meyer Guggenheim entered the mining industry and the exploitation of precious metals. His investments enabled him to own most of the known reserves of iron, copper and silver. At the end of World War I, he became one of America’s wealthiest men and moved to New York. The Guggenheim saga was launched. Members of the family, including Solomon (son of Meyer Guggenheim) and Peggy (granddaughter of Meyer and niece of Solomon), were introduced to art as children and became great collectors. Solomon established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1937 (which today operates the Guggenheim Museums in New York, Venice, Bilbao and Abu Dhabi). On its side, Peggy helped finance or promote great painters and emerging artists in her art galleries (her personal collection is on display in Venice). Throughout the twentieth century, the Guggenheim family was passionate about art, acting as collectors, donors and philanthropists.
  • Other museum projects supported by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation could have been built in the 2010s in Helsinki (Finland), Guadalajara (Mexico) and Vilnius (Lithuania) but were abandoned. For obscure reasons, some art galleries were forced to close their doors for good. These include the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York in 2001 and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas in 2008 (United States) as well as the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 2013 (Germany).
  • If you hand in your ID at the entrance to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, you may be given a folding chair that you can use at your leisure to appreciate the works of art.
  • The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao offers a free virtual tour of its works of art on its website. It regularly publishes educational, playful or artistic videos in the form of workshops, experiments or stories for families.
  • If you are planning to spend several days in the Basque province of Biscay (Bizkaia), take the opportunity to discover the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. This natural wetland site, located 1 hour’s drive north-east of Bilbao, marks the mouth of the River Oka and protects a major estuary of the Bay of Biscay. Its marshes attract a large number of migratory birds every year.

Where to eat

  • El Puertito
    (for oyster lovers)
  • El Huevo Frito
    (very good pintxos)
  • Etxanobe
    (gourmet's address)

Where to go out

  • Doña Casilda Iturrizar Park
    (Brittish garden style)
  • Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
    (contemporary art)
  • Biscay Foral Delegation Palace
    (massive and magnificent)

Where to sleep

  • Bilbao Akelarre Hostel
    (economic hostel)
  • Zubia Urban Rooms
    (comfortable and well-placed)
  • NH Collection Villa de Bilbao
    (design and modern)

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