Sept 21, 22 and 23
I need to backtrack just a bit to mention three incredible museums that are on the path of the Camino Norte. Each is very different. Each is worth a visit.
First, the Guernika Peace Museum.
This museum initially opened in 1999 as a museum of the history of the Basque region and the Spanish Civil War. In 2003 it was renamed and reopened as the Guernika Peace Museum.
The museum explores the concept of peace, the paths to peace and the abscence of peace within the historical events of the town.
Since the Middle Ages, the oak tree has been a symbol of peace. Basque assemblies met under oak trees to do town business, settle affairs and take oaths. All important matters and arguments were settled under an oak tree.
King Ferdinand took his oath under the tree in Guernika in 1476 and although each town had its own oak tree, the tree in Guernika became the symbol of democracy for the entire Basque region.
The official oak tree has been replaced over time from acorns of the original tree. In 2004 a new tree was planted to replace one planted in 1860. Thi newest tree is dying and a new one will not be planted until the soil is replaced. A comment on our world today??
The second event commemorated is the aerial carpet bombing of the town on April 26, 1937 by combined forces of Germany and Italy. Franco had asked for their help during the Spanish Civil War in hopes of defeating the Basques.
The planes bombed the city for three solid hours. The town was destroyed and more than 1600 people were killed. The munitions factory however was intentionally spared and after the city was taken by Franco, the remaining men went back to work there.
The photos and the stories are beyond words. Pablo Picasso said it best with his paintbrush. A copy of his painting simply entitled Guernika is on permanent display in the city park.
Sobering reflections and much to think about as we moved down the path.
The next day in Bilbao we visited the Guggenheim Museum.
This museum designed by the Architect Frank Gehry, has been called a masterpiece and it is, both inside and out. Although it must say I like outside better.
Gehry’s challenge was to fit a museum into a space that had a river on one side and a large bridge on another and construct it on a sloping hill.
His design is brilliant. It goes under the bridge and the bridge goes through the museum?? Approached either from the water side or the street side it is breathtaking.
We walked along the river in the rain. As we came to the museum we were met by a gigantic sculpture of a spider and jets of steam and fog- two of the latest exhibitions. We passed another sculpture, a tree made of huge steel balls.
The angles are impossible and titanium “skin” covering the limestone blocks picked up light and cast shadows. It was stunning.
Inside was overwhelming.
Glass elevators, see through paths and walkways , hidden stairways and galleries and lots of famous very modern paintings, videos and sculptures that left me overwhelmed and out of my depth.
I did however like the Jeff Koons tulips and the flower dog. I like anything that has flowers (60,000 self watered internally) a dog and is so big that even I look little!
And finally another masterpiece built one hundred years earlier in Portugalete just outside of Bilbao and also on our path- the Bizkaia Bridge. That is Basque for Bilbao.
Built in two years and opened in 1890, this work of engineering art was the first transporter bridge in the world and the only one in use today.
Not only can pedestrians and cars cross the river by gondola, since 1999 it was been possible to take an elevator up 500ft. to a pedestrian walkway which allows you to look down on the gondola and the river as you walk across . Quite terrifying going up but ok going across. Ride back was free!
Since 1893, 650 million people have crossed this estuary by gondola. Since 2006 it was been a world heritage site. If you are in Bilbao don’t miss it.
And one last modern touch. We were whisked up the hill out of Portugalate by a series of electric hill climbers ! In seconds we were back on the path heading into the country.