Getxo, Portugalete and Santurtzi – Bay of Abra
Portugalete and Santurtzi together with Getxo are the municipalities that run along the Bay of Abra, Bilbao-Bizkaia Bay. This inlet begins at the Fishermen’s Guild (Santurtzi) and ends at the coast at La Galea, and is crossed by the Transporter Bridge, which connects Getxo (from Las Arenas neighbourhood) and Portugalete.
Portugalete has a close relationship with Getxo, as it shares something as iconic for both municipalities as is the Bizkaia Transporter Bridge.
Portugalete and Getxo Hanging Bridge
The Hanging Bridge is how the Bizkaia Transport Bridge, one of Bizkaia’s most important landmarks, is popularly known. It was built in 1893 to join both sides of the river without disrupting maritime traffic.
Hundreds of vessels have since sailed under this 61-metre high iron monument and around 6 million people cross the bridge every year.
The Bizkaia Transport Bridge was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 in recognition of its aesthetics, its beauty and its influence on later constructions.
The pedestrian walkway runs 50 metres high over the shuttle. There is a lift up to the walkway and visitors can enjoy spectacular panoramic views over the Bay of Abra from there.
Portugalete Old Town
Crossing the Hanging Bridge from Getxo takes you to Portugalete. The transporter bridge shuttle leaves you at Portugalete Old Town, declared a Heritage Site in 1996. Apart from being home to monuments of cultural interest, such as the Santa María Basilica and the Salazar Tower, it is famed for the pintxos (small snacks) available from its bars and taverns.
- Santa Maria Basilica. This Gothic style building with Renaissance influences stands at the top of the town. It is next to a lookout point with views over the river estuary, the bay and the Transporter Bridge.
It took nearly a century to build and it was finally completed at the end of the 15th century. Its outside is striking with its flying buttresses, gargoyles, façades and the bell tower.
The inside houses the Renaissance main altarpiece, declared a Cultural Heritage Item, along with the Adoration of the Magi altarpiece. A variety of Flemish Gothic paintings line the side walls. This building is home to the Sacred Art Museum, whose collections include displays of silverware, garments, an 18th-century choir book and the sounding board of the 19th-century pulpit.
- Salazar Tower. It houses a museum and a Basque cuisine restaurant. This building was originally owned by the well-known Salazar family.
It was a symbol of military power and used to be a vantage point to control maritime traffic.
After crossing the Portugalete Old Town, you reach the Northern Route of the Way of St. James, with the Municipal Pilgrim’s Hostel, open from 1 June to 30 September.
Plaza del Solar square
Portugalete Town Hall is on this square and Las Aldeanas Market is held here from 9.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is an outdoor market selling flowers, plants and local produce.
There are two other sights of interest here:
- The statue of Víctor Chávarri. This monument dedicated to the industrialist from Portugalete, founder of the “La Vizcaya” factory (which would later become the famous “Altos Hornos de Vizcaya”), is an allegory to the industrialisation process. The bronze bust of Victor Chávarri is on a Carrara marble base and is flanked by the figures of two workers: a driller and a forger. It was made by Miguel Blay, the Catalan sculptor in 1903 and was awarded the first gold medal at the 1905 Paris International Exhibition.
- The Bandstand. Every other Sunday, the municipal band performs chicharrillos or dances and concerts at this meeting place built in 1912.
The Portugalete Tourist Information Office is located in La Canilla building next to the Plaza del Solar.
The Portugalete Promenade runs for 2 kilometres along the Bilbao river estuary to the Transporter Bridge.
The route is divided into 3 different sections, from south to north:
- The Old Wharf. It embodies the industrialisation of the river estuary in our recent history.
- Rialia, Industry Museum. It is home to an art collection whose main theme is the iron industry, which was a cornerstone of the development of the Basque Country.
- Churruca Wharf. This is the centre of the promenade and the section closest to the Transporter Bridge and is lined by many elegant stately buildings dating back to the end of the 19th century. The tide gauge can be seen at the end of this section. This device is used to measure the depth of the river course and records the increases and decreases of the water level. It was of vital importance for the vessels that used the Bilbao river estuary.
- The Iron Wharf. The iron wharf was design by Evaristo de Churruca, the engineer, and has been declared a Cultural Heritage Site. Its main purpose was to facilitate navigation along the Bilbao river estuary and avoid shipwrecks.
The monument to Evaristo de Churruca (1939) is on the other side of the river, in Getxo). A notable feature of the wharf is the lighthouse-tower designed by Ignacio Mª Smith, the architect, along with a set of sculptures by Miguel García de Salazar. The monument comprises the statue of Evaristo de Churruca, the statues of a forger and a seafarer, representing “Industry” and “Navigation”.
There are two figures immediately in front depicting Bilbao fighting against Neptune. These works promoted by Evaristo de Churruca during his time at the head of the Port Works Board, symbolise the triumph of the people of Bizkaia over the sandbar, river and the Abra Bay.
Santurtzi’s main attraction is its fishing tradition and its cuisine, best known for its sardines.
Agurtza Fishing Interpretation Centre
The Agurtza Fishing Boat is just a few metres away from the Portugalete Iron Wharf. It is one of the last remaining timber vessels in the Bay of Abra and traditional fishing is the main theme of the centre.
Visitors can learn about the techniques to catch long-finned tuna and its canning, along with the lifestyle of the fishermen in the past and details about the work of the “Txos” (trawler crew).
The Oriol Palace is next to the Agurtza Fishing Boat. Dating back to 1902, this building in the Victorian style is a fine example of the heyday of Bizkaia and is now a hotel.
The following points of interest can be found along the Santurtzi Promenade, with its views over the Bay of Abra:
- The Fishermen’s Guild Building. Given its importance and as it was a cornerstone of the development of the municipality, the Fisherman’s Guild Building is iconic in Santurtzi. It has now been restored to all its glory.
- Santurtzi Itsaso Museum. This museum uses audio-visual resources to showcase the relationship between the people of Santurtzi from the early 17th century to the present. It also explains the work of the pilots and their important role to get the boats safely across the sandbar and shows how the buccaneers and pirates of the Bay of Abra lived. This building is also home to the Santurtzi Tourist Information Office.
- Our Lady of El Carmen The statue of Our Lady of El Carmen, the patron saint of Santurtzi, stands at the end of the breakwater.
- Monument to the Sardine Seller. Sardine sellers played such a vital and important role throughout the history of Santurtzi that a sculpture was erected in 1964 to honour their hard work.
The San Jorge Church, the saint after which the town is named, stands in Santurtzi Park, next to the promenade. It is a Romanesque building and is home to Our Lady of El Carmen.
The Casa Torre Palace, with its beautiful coat-of-arms, is just a few metres away. Built in the Baroque style in 1706, it houses an exhibition hall and the Historical Interpretation Centre.
Yet there is more to Santurtzi than its seafaring tradition. There is Mount Serantes rising up 452 metres high. It is vantage point to enjoy the beautiful views over the Bay of Abra.
The route up takes you through different fortifications that were built against possible military incursions. There are now different routes to Mount Serantes.
Another interesting way of discovering the history and way of life of the three municipalities (Getxo, Portugalete and Santurtzi) of the Bay of Abra, is on El Bote Tours, a tourist boat with an audio-guide service to make sure you do not miss a single detail.
Would you like to know more?
Routes, points of interest, activities… Download the Abra map-guide, Bilbao-Bizkaia Bay!