Essay

Turning Point One: 1983 Flooding

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

Flooding. August 26, 1983

The end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century witnessed the rise of Bilbao as an economic power within the Basque Country and Spain. Mining, shipbuilding, and other iron industries led its economy for several decades and attracted large numbers of inhabitants to the growing city. The global decline of the steel industry in the mid-1970s and 1980s collapsed its economic model, creating severe urban, social, and environmental consequences. This process would culminate in the catastrophic flooding that took place on Friday, August 26, 1983.

On Friday, August 26, 1983, Bilbao was celebrating its Aste Nagusia or Great Week, the main annual festivity in the city, when it and other municipalities of the Basque Country, Burgos, and Cantabria suffered devastating flooding due to heavy rains. In 24 hours, the volume of water registered 600 liters per square meter. Across all the affected areas, the weather service recorded 1.5 billion tons of water. In areas of Bilbao, the water reached a height of five meters (15 feet). Transportation, electricity and gas services, drinking water, food, telephone, and many other basic services were severely affected. Thirty-two people died in Biscay, four people died in Cantabria, two people died in Alava, and two people died Burgos. Five more people went missing.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

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© AMB-BUA Archivo Municipal de Bilbao Bilboko Udal Artxiboa Fondo Ayuntamiento de Bilbao.

In decline for years, the devastating floods in Bilbao and other municipalities of 1983 can be considered the last nail in the coffin. This period is defined by a first strategic plan for the city that aimed to reposition Bilbao and provide a new future for the city. Strategic organizations were founded and alliances were formed. Multiple large-scale initiatives, ambitious unbuilt proposals, and remarkable built projects took place during this period that would culminate with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum on October 19, 1997.

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