BILBAO, formerly sometimes written Bilboa, the capital of the province of Biscay, in northern Spain; in 43° 15' N. and 2° 45' W.; on the river Nervion on Ansa (in Basque Ibaizabal), and about 8 m. inland from the Bay of Biscay. Pop. (1900) 83,306. Bilbao is one of the principal seaports of Spain, and the greatest of Basque towns. It occupies a small but fertile and beautiful valley, shut in by mountains on every side except towards the sea, and containing the fortified haven of Portugalete, the industrial town of Baracaldo (q.v.), and the villages of Santurce and Las Arenas, where the Nervion broadens to form the Bay of Bilbao at its mouth. Bilbao comprises two distinct parts, ancient and modern. The new town lies on the left bank, while the old town rises on the right in terraces. Communication across the river is afforded by five bridges, of which the oldest, San Antonio, is of stone, and dates from the 14th century. The houses in the principal streets are built of hewn stone, and are several storeys high, with projecting eaves that give shelter from both Sun and rain. Many of the streets in the old town are very narrow, and have an appearance of cleanliness and quiet. For a long time no carts or carriages were permitted to enter the city for fear of polluting and injuring the pavement, and the transport of goods was carried on in hand-carts. But after 1876 entirely new districts were mapped out on the left bank of the Nervion. Fine broad streets, splendid squares and public gardens, hotels, villas, palatial new public buildings and numerous schools came into existence. The part of the town on the right bank is, however, still the great centre of business, the narrow streets containing the best shops. There, too, are the banks, the town hall, the theatre, the principal clubs, and the principal churches, including that of Santiago, which dates from the 14th century. In and around Bilbao there are more than thirty convents and monasteries, and at Olaveaga, about a mile off, is the Jesuit university, attended by 850 students. Public education is not, however, entirely in the hands of the priesthood and nuns; there are an institute, a normal school to train teachers, a school of arts and handicrafts, a nautical school and numerous public primary schools for both sexes.
Few Spanish cities grew so rapidly in size, importance and wealth as Bilbao in the latter half of the 19th century. Its first bank was founded in 1857; its first railway (Bilbao-Tudela) opened in 1863. Thenceforward, despite the check it received from the Carlist rebellion of 1870-1876, and the contemporaneous decline of its wool and shipbuilding industries, its prosperity increased steadily. The population, 17,649 in 1870, rose to 50,734 in 1887, 74,076 in 1897, and 83,306 in 1900. This development was due principally to the growth of the mining and metallurgical industries. From a very early period, as the Old English word bilbo, "a sword," attests, Bilbao was celebrated for the excellent quality of its steel blades; in modern times it was the natural headquarters of the important steel and iron trades of the Basque Provinces. Hence it became the centre of a network of railway lines unsurpassed in Spain. The harbour works board, constituted in 1877, improved the river channel and the bar; made wharves and embankments; lighted the lower reaches of the river by electricity, so as to allow vessels to enter by night; and constructed a breakwater and counter-mole outside the bar of the river Nervion, between Santurce, Portugalete and the opposite headland at the village of Algorta, so as to secure deep anchorage and easy access to the river. The first dry dock was constructed in 1896; in 1905 it was supplemented by another, the largest in Spain. The exports are chiefly iron; the imports coal; large quantities of wine from Navarre and the Ebro valley are also sent abroad, and the importation of timber of all kinds from Scandinavia and Finland, and coastwise from Asturias, is of great importance. In the coasting trade the exports are mostly pig-iron, codfish and some products of local industries and agriculture. The shipping at Bilbao is mainly Spanish, owing to the multitude of small vessels employed in the coasting trade; but from 1880 onwards the majority of foreign ships were British. In 1904, 3319 vessels of 2,267,957 tons were accommodated at Bilbao; more than 2000 were Spanish and nearly 700 British. In the same year new harbour works and lighting arrangements were undertaken on a large scale, and a movement was initiated for the revival of shipbuilding. Besides the mining and metallurgic industries, Bilbao has breweries, tanneries, flour mills, glass works, brandy distilleries, and paper, soap, cotton and mosaic factories.
Bilbao, or Belvao, as it was often called, was founded by Don Pedro Lopez de Haro about 1300, and soon rose into importance. It was occupied by the French in 1795, and from 1808 to 1813; and in 1835 and 1874 it was unavailingly besieged by the Carlists.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)