Barrio de Olabeaga

Olabeaga auzoa

Olabeaga neighborhood

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The neighborhood of Olabeaga is situated next to the Estuary following on from Abando-Ibarra. The adverse topography placed limits on its configuration and urban development. Arraiz Hill extends in a wedge-like shape to the bank of the Estuary itself, hence the urban pattern had to be adapted to the scant land available. Nonetheless, a maritime and port culture arose that gave the neighborhood its chief identity mark.

Until the industrial take-off in the final quarter of the XIX century, Bilbao was a port and merchant city, with problems of space and navigability on the Estuary. The shipyards, a large part of the auxiliary maritime industry and certain maritime infrastructures were located on the riversides at Abando and Deusto, given the lack of better sites in the township. For many years Olabeaga fulfilled the functions of a port. Large ships that could not go upriver to the center of Bilbao were moored there. It was equipped with transport clamps and barges, maritime workshops and stores, shops to meet the needs of crews, as well as a collective of seamen and specialized workers.

In the second half of the XIX century new initiatives emerged that continued this tradition. In 1868, the company Empresa de Diques Secos was created, which made use of the old dry dock of Domingo Zubiría (1791). This company charged ships for rights of entry and stay, but the ship-owners could carry out work of their own or make use of the nearby workshops.

A new stage began in 1876, during which the city and port of Bilbao were modernized. The Expansion plan clearly distinguished between two Bilbaos: the residential city and the port. The modern port was located from Ripa to Olabeaga, continuing the traditions of these areas, and its infrastructure included the Railway of the North and the railway from Bilbao to Portugalete. In 1878 the Board of Works of the Port of Bilbao began its plan to improve the Estuary and the inner port. In the space of one decade works were carried out such as: the correction of the river bend of Elorrieta; the channeling of the Estuary from San Mamés to the Olabeaga wharf; the refitting of the Ripa and Uribitarte wharves; and the elimination of the silt that had built up in the Estuary.

In 1900 Ramón de la Sota and Eduardo Aznar inaugurated the Euskalduna shipyard. This was situated in installations proceeding from the purchase of Diques Secos and the workshop of Vda. de Cortina y Vidaurrázaga, the leaseholder of the former. To these were added the rest of the installations also leased from Diques Secos: Vda. e Hijos de Peres, Vda. e Hijos de Garayo and the Troca workshops. A wharf was built, the two existing dry docks were extended, a third dry dock was built (1906) and the workshops were reformed. Around 1920, the company employed a staff of 3,700 workers and covered an area of 9 hectares. The occupation of land by the shipyard restricted the possibilities for expanding Olabeaga.

The decade of the 1960s was a stage that saw an expansion of shipbuilding in Spain and internationally. The Euskalduna shipyard was affected by a problem of space. Nor was its location a favorable one: it was situated upriver, where the Estuary became narrower and shallower. For this reason the shipyard specialized in medium-sized ships, and ceased to construct petrol tankers. Three of the big Spanish companies began a process of concentration, which concluded in 1969 with the creation of Astilleros Españoles S.A. (AESA), which combined Astillero de Cádiz, La Naval de Sestao and Euskalduna. During the phase of expansion, AESA became the leading European shipbuilder and one of the eight biggest shipbuilders in the world.

Olabeaga took on the industrial functions that were assigned to it: the railway, loading bays, dry docks, workshops and cranes occupied both banks of the Estuary in the heart of the city. It continued to lack space for growth and to have communications and transport problems.

The Estuary of Bilbao was the epitome of Basque industrialization for a century (1876-1975), and also of the industrial and urban crisis, which brought such serious consequences. The strategies of economic restructuring and urban regeneration were centered on this axis in the 1990s. Industrial and port activities were expelled from the bank of the Estuary at Abando-Ibarra and Olabeaga, whose functions were redirected and are now basically residential and tertiary. Following the end of Euskalduna’s shipbuilding activity and the demolition of the industrial ruins, the ground has been occupied by the Euskalduna Palace and the Maritime Museum of the Bilbao Estuary, which has conserved the Carola crane, the dry docks, and the pumping building of the old shipyard. And the new Euskalduna Bridge now connects the two banks at this stretch of the Estuary.

Susana Serrano Abad


    GUIARD, T. La industria naval vizcaína, Bilbao, Biblioteca Vascongada Villar, 1968; HOUPT, S. y ORTIZ-VILLAJOS, J. Mª Astilleros Españoles 1872-1998. La construcción naval en España, Madrid, LID Editorial Empresarial, 1998; IBAÑEZ, M., SANTANTA, A. y ZABALA, M. Arqueologia industrial en Bizkaia, Bilbao, Gobierno Vasco-Universidad de Deusto-Agfa, 1988; SERRANO ABAD, S. “Olabeaga. Cultura y Patrimonio en una ciudad post-industrial”, en Bilbao y sus barrios: una mirada desde la historia (Volumen 2), Bilbao, Ayuntamiento de Bilbao, 2007, pp. 111-141.