Spain - Bilbao

To many people, Bilbao is the Guggenheim. This astonishing building, designed by Frank Gehry, was opened in 1997 and houses outstanding exhibitions of modern art. Its construction has been the catalyst for the rehabilitation of what had been a depressed port and industrial city, to such an extent that the City is now world-renowned as an artistic and cultural centre, and a major tourist destination. In parallel with this development, there are some truly remarkable footbridges over the Nervion River, in addition to a number of older road bridges.

Pride of place must go to the Zubizuri (Basque for "White bridge"), otherwise known as the Puente del Campo Volantin, a foot- and cycle- bridge linking the Urbitarte and main commercial centre of the city on the left bank with the Campo Volantin on the right. Designed by Calatrava, it consists of a curved walkway of glass blocks, 75 metres long and 4 metres wide suspended from an inclined parabolic arch and was opened in 1997. It is accessed by ramps and steps at either end. Access to the left bank (southern end) is down to the Urbitarte, the broad avenue along the river bank, from which it is necessary to mount a long flight of steps to reach the main commercial area of the city; a lift is provided for cyclists.

There has been quite a spat between Calatrava and the city authorities since  construction. First there was the matter of the glass blocks which formed the deck which were slippery and prone to damage; they are now covered with matting. Then in 2006, the city fathers authorised construction of a short linking bridge from the southern end of the bridge into the nearby development of the Isozaki Atea towers. Calatrava sued the city for breaching the moral rights to the integrity of his creation;  Calatrava was awarded damages but the linking bridge has been allowed to remain.

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Worth a brief mention, although not counting as one of our footbridges, the next bridge downstream is La Salve road bridge (otherwise known as Puente Principes de Espaņa or "Princes of Spain" bridge), opened in 1972. Subsequently, the Guggenheim Museum was built immediately downstream on the left bank. Two recent embellishments on the left bank are the split tower which houses a staircase leading to the adjacent Guggenheim,  and even more recently a red portico straddling the bridge and designed by the French artist Daniel Buren was added as recently as 2006.

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Then we come to the Pedro Arrupe footbridge which serves the University of Deusto on the north bank. This bridge may best be described as "interesting" rather than "attractive". The bridge was designed by Fernandez  Ordoņez and is six metres wide and 140 metres long. There are three ways up on to the bridge at each end. It was built in 2004 and is constructed of stainless steel; it is notable for the way in which the deck and the inside of the parapets are clad in walnut wood. Pedro Arrupe, after whom the bridge is named, was a native of Bilbao and was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 1983.

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Further downstream we come to the Euskalduna Bridge which is remarkable for two things. Firstly, it curves through almost 90o in plan and is 250 metres long. Secondly, unlike most road bridges, it allocates almost as much space to pedestrians and cyclists as it does to motor traffic; about 11 metres of the 27 metre width of the bridge is given over to a covered foot- and cycle-way. The bridge was designed by Javier Manterola and was opened in 1977. The bridge is apparently named after a pretty girl who used to create a daily stir when she passed by the shipyards nearby.

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Much further downstream, linking Portugalete (on the left or west bank) and Getxo in the port area is the remarkable Vizcaya transporter bridge. It is locally known as the Puente Colgante, although this term is misleading as it means "suspension bridge" which it is patently not. Opened in 1893 this is the oldest transporter bridge in the world and has operated continuously since apart from a four-year hiatus during the Spanish civil war, and has gone many refurbishments during its long history, the present gondola being the fifth. The bridge is 164 metres long, and the towers 65 metres high. The bridge has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Its tourism potential was enhanced by the opening in 1999 of a high level pedestrian walkway across the span of the bridge and 50 metres above river level, accessed by lift. Along the walkway, a number of artefacts and photographs of the bridge's history have been displayed. It is notable that there have only been 22 transporter bridges recorded in the world; currently only 11 are standing and only seven are in use.

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