Barrio de La Peña

Abusu auzoa

La Peña neighborhood

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The La Peña neighborhood is situated upriver from the Old Town of Bilbao on a sharp meander of the Ibaizabal-Nervión river, where the watercourse flows between nearby hills, which although not very high have steep slopes. This enclave extends along the left bank of the river, at the foot of the Pagasarri (668 meters.) - Ganekogorta (997 meters.) The river and the hill have reduced the urban land to a narrow strip (La Campa and Abusu), while higher up the hillside a rural landscape and forms of life continue to be found (Buia and Seberetxe).

As noted by the historians J. Enríquez and E. Sesmero, the neighborhoods of Ibaizabal (the former name of La Peña) and Buia probably existed before 1300. Following the foundation of the township of Bilbao, the first of these neighborhoods was more important than the rest. This was because it had hydraulic resources for mills and foundries, was located close to the Ollargan iron mines and those of Begoña on the opposite bank, and was on the road to Orduña, which connected the port of Bilbao with the Castilian plateau and the banks of the Ebro river. This road had a long tradition of merchant traffic with the lands of the interior and was of great historical importance. It started from the center of Bilbao and led through the so-called Ollargan gap, a narrow and dangerous pass. With the improvement works carried out in the XVIII century, this pass was avoided as the road went through Miraflores and over the new Bolueta bridge, to then reach Arrigorriaga via Venta Alta and follow the course of the Nervión river.

 This factor, together with the exploitation of the forest, the river level and the mines (Miribilla and Ollargan), favored the existence of potent foundries around this neighborhood. Together with these, mills were located upriver from the township, making use of the driving force of the river, dams and waterfalls. This traditional industry also met the demand of the urban population of Bilbao, which was the motive for creating the ovens and bakery of El Pontón (Miraflores).

During the first third of the XIX century there was a period of crisis and deindustrialization. The mills and foundries became obsolete. But at the same time the first attempts at renovation and modernization were made. These were new initiatives that on occasion found a renewed use for the old installations: the Santa Ana de Bolueta ironworks (1843), the Fábrica de Lencería de Miraflores (1845, linen factory), the flour factories of Juan Cruz Artiach and the glass factory of Nuestra Señora de la Piedad (1844), amongst others. 

At this time, iron ore began to be mined from the deposits of the Bilbao area, although the Bilbao mines were less prominent than those in Triano. Mineral extraction first began in the Ollargan area, on lands belonging to Santa Ana de Bolueta. Josefa, Malaespera, Sílfide, Julia and Abandonada were the names of the principal mines that were exploited in La Peña and its surroundings. J. C. Levisson and the Lezama Leguizamón family were amongst the proprietors.

In 1863, the Bilbao-Tudela railway was opened, which crossed this neighborhood and connected the port of Bilbao with the Castilian plateau and the banks of the Ebro river, as the old road had done in the past. The process of modern industrialization began, which resulted in the formation of an industrial “ring” around the center of Bilbao in the neighborhoods of Begoña, La Peña, Irala, Basurto, Olabeaga and Deusto. In La Peña, at the start of the XX century, significant industrial installations were created, characterized by their link to tradition. Together with the two main companies – Barbier Hermanos, which manufactured wires and tips, and Power, which produced jute sacks and cloths – there was a wide range of workshops related to paper, metallurgy, paint and hardware, brushes, pasta products and cognac.

Meanwhile, according to a project by Ernesto Hoffmeyer, the machinery for supplying water to the township and producing electrical energy for public lighting was constructed on the island of San Cristobal in this neighborhood – an island that no longer exists. Water was raised to the Miraflores tank using pumps (1886).

La Peña was consolidated in the second industrial expansion of the mid-XX century, when it received immigrants who were attracted by the offers of employment generated by the factory axis of the Bilbao Estuary. Following this phase of expansion, the economic and urban crisis arrived, and as an added problem there were the devastating consequences of the floods in August 1983. La Peña was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods, given its location on the bank of the river. Since then, it has undergone a profound urban redevelopment, with a modernization of communication infrastructures and an expansion of services, which have changed the face of the neighborhood and the life of its inhabitants.

Susana Serrano Abad


    Enríquez, J. y Sesmero, E. Bilbao medieval, Bilbao, Librería anticuaria Astarloa, 2000; García Camino, I. “Bilbao: de la prehistoria a la fundación de la villa” en Bidebarrieta I Symposium: 700 Años de Memoria, I (1996), pp. 67-98; Serrano Abad, S. “La Peña en la memoria histórica del Bilbao contemporáneo” en Bilbao y sus barrios: una mirada desde la historia, Bilbao, Ayuntamiento de Bilbao, 2007, Vol. 4 pp. 45-87.