Friday, August 15, 2008

Bilbao's Zazpi Kaleak

This article about Bilbao's iconic Zazpi Kaleak (The Seven Streets) comes to us via EITb:

Bilbao's seven street: the heart of the villa


Somera, Artekale, Tendería, Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja, Barrenkale y Barrenkale Barrena. These are the names of the seven parallel streets located between the Church of Santiago and the estuary of Bilbao.

When the villa was established, traders settled in these streets. The oldest place in the old quarter of the city is still known as Siete Calles (Seven Streets). The narrowness of the city ceases to be a problem due to the environment of its bars and its picturesque trades.

It is a pleasure to wander round the Siete Calles heading nowhere. However, we have planned a route for those who do not want to miss any attractive details in the area. We will start our itinerary from the Church of San Anton, next to the bridge with the same name that was the first successful attempt to link both sides of the estuary.

San Anton is in fact San Antonio Abad, to whom this graceful temple was dedicated in the fourteenth century. It was constructed in the fourteenth century on top of the primitive fortress of the villa and it is a gothic building with a squared plan. Its picture comes up on the shield of Bilbao next to the picture of the bridge.

An impressive building of eclectic style located next to the church catches the eye of anyone passing nearby. It is the Ribera Market. “Nothing can be conceived more lively or picturesquely as the look the market of Bilbao offers”, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer wrote about what he saw in front of him. This big market place, known as the Ribera Market or the Atxuri Market, was constructed in 1929 on the side of the river. It is a project designed by Pedro de Ispizua y Susunaga from Bermeo. Have a look at its glass.

It is a must-do to properly go into the Siete Calles, through Belostikale or any of its parallel streets. If there is enough time, we will be able to go shopping or practice the txikiteo, you know, chatting as we go from one bar to the other and so on.

However, we will stop at the church of Santiago, the tallest and most important building in the Old Quarter that stands in a way that makes the main door be the first thing people see. It was built on top of an ancient cemetery and it is of gothic style. However, the following building works have added, once at a time, newer elements, such as a neoclassic cloister and a façade from the nineteenth century, under the directions of Severino de Achucarro.

We cannot forget that Bilbao once constituted part of the Camino de Santiago (Saint James’ Way) and that the apostle is the patron saint of the villa from the seventeenth century. It was before, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the church, that has 26 altarpieces, was constructed.

On the other side of the cathedral, we will find the Church of the Santos Juanes (Juanes Saints) and, next to it, the Basque Museum of Bilbao. It is an archaeology, ethnography, and historical centre that gives the visitors the opportunity to acknowledge the roots of the Basque Country. It was built on top of an ancient school with a cloister that belonged to the Jesuit Company; the work of art that stands out the most is the Mikeldi, a pale-Christian sculpture of animal-like shape that was possibly worshipped as if it was an idol.

Our attempt of approaching the Old Quarter will end by going to a newer place, the Plaza Nueva (New Square). This magnificent arcaded square of neoclassic style is a place for encounters and party. If the weather is good, relax in one of its terraces. If it’s Sunday, do not give up on the idea of wandering round the bazaar. The king Fernando VII started the process of building this square, and it was finished in the middle of the nineteenth century, under the orders of the architect Antonio de Echeverria. The square has 64 arches with columns of a classic Greek style and the space it guards has always a nice environment.

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