Biscay (Basque: Bizkaia; Spanish: Vizcaya) is a province of Spain
located just south of the Bay of Biscay. The name also refers to a
historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient
Lordship of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao. It is one of the most
prosperous and important provinces of
Spain as a result of the massive
industrialization in the last years of the 19th century and first half
of the 20th century. Since the deep deindustrialization of the 1970s,
the economy has come to rely more on the services sector.
3.1.1 Middle Paleolithic
3.1.2 Late Paleolithic
Chalcolithic and Bronze Age
3.4 Iron Age
3.5 Roman period
3.6 Middle Ages
3.7 Modern age
3.8 20th century
5 Administrative divisions
7 Government and Foral institutions
7.1 Juntas Generales
7.2 Foral Diputation
8.3 Commuter rail
8.4 Long distance railways
10 See also
11 Notes and references
12 External links
It is accepted in linguistics (Koldo Mitxelena, etc.) that Bizkaia is
a cognate of bizkar (cf.
Biscarrosse in Aquitaine), with both
place-name variants well attested in the whole Basque
out meaning 'low ridge' or 'prominence' (Iheldo bizchaya attested
in 1141 for the Monte Igueldo in San Sebastián).
“Bizkaia” is the Basque denomination recommended by the Royal
Academy of the Basque language, and it is commonly used on official
documents on that language. It is also used on documents in Spanish,
and it is the most used denomination by the media in Spanish in the
Basque Country. It is also the denomination used in the Basque version
of the Spanish constitution and in the Basque version of the Statute
of Autonomy of the Basque Country.
Bizkaia is also the only official denomination approved for the
historical territory by the
Juntas Generales of the province.
“Vizcaya” is the denomination in Spanish, recommended by the Royal
Spanish Academy. It is used in non-official documents and, in general,
by Spanish speakers. It is also the Spanish denomination used in the
Spanish version of the Constitution and in the Spanish version of the
Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country.
Biscay has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic, as attested by
the archaeological remains and cave paintings found in its many caves.
The Roman presence had little impact in the region,
Basque language and traditions have survived to this day.
Biscay was identified in records of the Middle Ages, as a dependency
Kingdom of Pamplona
Kingdom of Pamplona (11th century) that became autonomous and
finally a part of the Crown of Castile. The first mention of the name
Biscay was recorded in a donation act to the monastery of Bickaga,
located on the ria of Mundaka. According to Anton Erkoreka, the
Vikings had a commercial base there from which they were expelled by
825. The ria of
Mundaka is the easiest route to the river
Ebro and at
the end of it, the
Mediterranean Sea and trade.
In the modern age, the province became a major commercial and
industrial area. Its prime harbour of
Bilbao soon became the main
Castilian gateway to Europe. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries,
the abundance of prime quality iron ore and the lack of feudal castes
favored rapid industrialization.
The first evidence of human dwellings (
Neanderthal people) in Biscay
happens in this period of prehistory.
Mousterian artifacts have been
found in three sites in Biscay: Benta Laperra (Karrantza), Kurtzia
(Getxo) and Murua (Durangoaldea).
Santimamiñe cave, in Busturialdea.
Chatelperronian culture (normally associated with Neanderthals as
well) can be found in
Santimamiñe cave (Kortezubi).
The most important settlements by modern humans (H. sapiens) can be
considered the following:
Aurignacian culture: Benta Laperra, Kurztia, and Lumentxa (Lekeitio)
Gravettian culture: Santimamiñe, Bolinkoba (Durangoaldea) and Atxurra
Santimamiñe and Bolinkoba
Santimamiñe and Lumentxa
Paleolithic art is also present. The Benta Laperra cave has the oldest
paintings, maybe from the
Solutrean period. Bison and
bear are the animals depicted, together with abstract signs. The
murals of Arenaza (Galdames) and
Santimamiñe were created in later
periods (Magdalenian). In Arenaza female deer are the dominant motif;
Santimamiñe features bison, horses, goats and deer.
This period (also called
Mesolithic sometimes) is dominated in Biscay
Azilian culture. Tools become smaller and more refined and,
while hunting remains, fishing and seafood gathering become more
important; there is evidence of consumption of wild fruits as well.
Santimamiñe is one of the most important sites of this period. Others
are Arenaza, Atxeta (not far from Santimamiñe), Lumentxa and nearby
Urtiaga and Santa Catalina, together with Bolinkoba and neighbour
While the first evidences of
Neolithic contact in the Basque Country
can be dated to the 4th millennium BCE, it was not until the beginning
of the 3rd that the area accepted, gradually and without radical
changes, the advances of agricultural cultivation and domestication of
Biscay was not particularly affected by this change and only
three sites can be mentioned for this period: Arenaza, Santimamiñe
and Kobeaga (Ea) and the advances adopted seem limited initially to
sheep, domestic goats and very scarce pottery.
Neolithic technologies, Megalithism also arrives. It
will be the most common form of burial (simple dolmen) until c. 1500
Chalcolithic and Bronze Age
While open-air settlement started to become common as the population
grew, they still used caves and natural shelters in
Biscay in the
Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. Hunting game became a less important
source of protein, as the people relied on sheep, goats and some
bovine cattle. Metallic tools become more common but stone-made ones
are also used.
Pottery types shows great continuity (not decorated) until the bell
beaker makes its appearance.
The sites of this period now cover all the territory of Biscay, many
being open air settlements, but the most important caves of the
Paleolithic are still in use as well.
Few sites have been identified for this period. Caves are abandoned
for the most part but they still reveal some remains. The main caves
of prehistory (Arenaza, Santimamiñe, Lumentxa) were still inhabited.
Roman geographers identified two tribes in the territory now known as
Caristii and Autrigones. The
Caristii dwelt in nuclear
Biscay, east of the firth of Bilbao, extending also into Northern
Araba and some areas of Gipuzkoa, up to the river Deba. The Autrigones
dwelt in the westernmost part of
Biscay and Araba, extending also into
the provinces of Cantabria, Burgos and La Rioja. Based in toponymy,
historical and archaeological evidence, it is thought that these
tribes spoke the Basque language. The borders of the Biscayan
dialect of Basque seem to be those of the Caristian territory, with an
exception of the areas that have lost the old language.
There is no indication to resistance to Roman occupation in all the
Basque area (excepting Aquitaine) until the late feudalizing period.
Roman sources mention several towns in the area, Flaviobriga and
Portus Amanus, though they have not been located. The site of Forua,
near Gernika, has yielded archaeological evidence of Roman presence
In the late Roman period, together with the rest of the Basque
Biscay seems to have revolted against Roman domination and
the growing society organized by feudalism.
In the Early Middle Ages, the history of
Biscay cannot be separated
from that of the Basque
Country as a whole. The area was de facto
Visigoths and Franks attempted to assert their
domination from time to time. Encounters between the
Basques usually led to defeat for the latter. The Visigoths
established an outlying post at the later city of Vitoria to counter
incursions and the migration of Basques from the coastal regions to
In 905, Leonese chronicles define for the first time the Kingdom of
Pamplona as including all the western Basque provinces, as well as the
Rioja region. The territories that would later constitute
included in that state.
Monument to Lope García de Salazar (1399-1476), opposite one of his
tower houses, in Portugalete.
In the conflicts that the newly sovereign
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile and
Navarre had in the 11th and 12th century, the Castilians were
supported by many landowners from La Rioja, who sought to consolidate
their holdings under Castilian feudal law. These pro-Castilian lords
were led by the house of Haro, who were eventually granted the rule of
newly created Biscay, initially made up of the valleys of Uribe,
Zornotza and Arratia, plus several towns and the
city of Urduina. It is unclear when this happened, but tradition says
that Iñigo López was the first
Lord of Biscay
Lord of Biscay in 1043.[citation
The title to the lordship was inherited by Iñigo López's descendants
until, by inheritance, in 1370 it passed to John I of Castile. It
became one of the titles of the king of Castile. Since then it
remained connected to the crown, first to that of Castile and then,
from Charles I, to that of Spain, as ruler of the Crown of Castile. It
was conditioned on the lord swearing to defend and maintain the fuero
(Biscayan laws, derived from Navarrese and Basque customary rights),
which affirmed that the possessors of the sovereignty of the lordship
were the Biscayans and that, at least in theory, they could refute the
The lords and later the kings, came to swear the Statutes to the oak
of Gernika, where the assembly of the Lordship sits.
Bilbao in 1575.
In the modern ages commerce on took great importance, specially for
the Port of Bilbao, to which the kings granted privileges in 1511 for
trade with the ports of the Spanish Empire.
Bilbao was already the
main Castilian harbour, from where wool was shipped to Flanders, and
other goods were imported.
In 1628, the separate territory of
Durango was incorporated to Biscay.
In the same century the so-called chartered municipalities west of
Biscay were also incorporated in different dates, becoming another
subdivision of Biscay:
House where Carlist General
Tomás de Zumalacárregui
Tomás de Zumalacárregui was hurt, and
Basilica of Begoña
Basilica of Begoña in 1835, after the Siege of Bilbao.
The coastal towns had a sizable fleet of their own, mostly dedicated
to fishing and trade. Along with other Basque towns of
Labourd, they were largely responsible for the partial extinction of
North Atlantic right whales in the
Bay of Biscay
Bay of Biscay and of the first
unstable settlement by Europeans in Newfoundland. They signed separate
treaties with other powers, particularly England.
After the Napoleonic wars, Biscay, along with the other Basque
provinces, were threatened to have their self-rule cut by the now
Liberal Spanish Cortes. Together with opposing factions that supported
different parties for the throne, this desire to maintain foral rights
contributed to the successive Carlist Wars. The Biscayan government
and other Basque provinces supported Carlos V, who represented an
autocratic monarch who would preserve tradition.
Many of the towns though, notably Bilbao, were aligned with the
Liberal government of Madrid. In the end, with victory by
anti-Carlists, the wars resulted in successive cuts of the wide
autonomy held by
Biscay and the other provinces.
In the 1850s extensive prime quality iron resources were discovered in
Biscay. This brought much foreign investment mainly from England and
France. Development of these resources led to greater
industrialization, which made
Biscay one of Spain's richest provinces.
Together with the industrialisation, important bourgeois families,
such as Ybarra, Chávarri and Lezama-Leguizamón, developed from the
new sources of wealth. The great industrial (Iberdrola, Altos Hornos
de Vizcaya) and financial (Banco
Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria- BBVA)
groups were created.
The historic Oak of Gernika, symbol of the Basque institutions.
During the Second Spanish Republic, the
Basque Nationalist Party
Basque Nationalist Party (PNV)
governed the province. When the
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936,
Biscay supported the Republican side against Francisco Franco's army
and fascist ideology. Soon after, the Republic acknowledged a statute
of autonomy for the Basque Country. Due to fascist control of large
parts of it, the first short-lived
Basque Autonomous Community
Basque Autonomous Community had
power only over
Biscay and a few nearby villages.
As the fascist army advanced westward from Navarre, defenses were
planned and erected around Bilbao, called the Iron Belt. But the
engineer in charge, José Goicoechea, defected to the fascists,
causing the unfinished defenses to be of little value. In 1937, German
airplanes under Franco's control destroyed the historic city of
Gernika, after having bombed
Durango with less severity a few weeks
before. Some months later,
Bilbao fell to the fascists. The Basque
army (Eusko Gudarostea) retreated to Santoña, beyond the limits of
Biscay. There they surrendered to the Italian forces (Santoña
Agreement), but the Italians yielded to Franco. Other Republican
forces considered the surrender a betrayal by the Basques.
Under the dictatorship of Franco,
were declared "traitor provinces" because of their opposition and
stripped of any sort of self-rule. Only after Franco's death in 1975
was democracy restored in Spain. The 1978 constitution accepted the
particular Basque laws (fueros) and in 1979 the Statute of Guernica
was approved whereupon Biscay, Araba and
Gipuzkoa formed the
Autonomous Community of the Basque
Country with its own parliament.
During this recent democratic period, Basque Nationalist Party
candidates have consistently won elections in Biscay. Recently the
foral law was amended to extend it to the towns and the city of
Urduina, which had previously always used the general Spanish Civil
Gaztelugatxe, in Bermeo
Biscay is bordered by the community of
Cantabria and the province of
Burgos (in the
Castile and León
Castile and León community) to the west, the Basque
Gipuzkoa to the east, and
Álava to the south, and by the
Cantabrian Sea (Bay of Biscay) to the north.
Orduña (Urduña) is a
Biscayan exclave located between Alava and Burgos provinces.
Urkiola mountain range.
The climate is oceanic, with high precipitation all year round and
moderate temperatures, which allow the lush vegetation to grow.
Temperatures are more extreme in the higher lands of inner Biscay,
where snow is more common during winter. The average high temperarures
in main city
Bilbao is between 13 °C (55 °F) in January
and 26 °C (79 °F) in August.
The main geographical features of the province are:
The southern high mountain ranges, part of the Basque mountains, that
form a continuous barrier with passes not lower than 600 m AMSL,
forming the water divide of the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins.
These ranges are divided from west to east in Ordunte (Zalama, 1390
m), Salbada (1100 m),
Gorbea (1481 m) and
Urkiola (Anboto, 1331 m).
The middle section which is occupied by the main river's valleys:
Ibaizabal and Kadagua.
Kadagua runs west to east from
Nervion south to north from
Ibaizabal east to
west from Urkiola. Arratia river runs northwards from
Gorbea and joins
Ibaizabal. Each valley is separated by medium mountains like
Ganekogorta (998m). Other mountains, like Oiz, separate the main
valleys from the northern valleys. The northern rivers are: Artibai,
Lea, Oka and Butron.
The coast: the main features are the estuary of
Bilbao where the main
rivers meet the sea and the estuary of
Gernika (Urdaibai). The coast
is usually high, with cliffs and small inlets and coves.
Biscay was divided into merindades (called eskualdeak in
Basque), which were two, the Constituent ones and the ones
The constituent ones were (the number indicates their position on the
Amorebieta (also Zornotza)5
Map of Biscay's regions or "comarcas".
Some other independent cities and towns.
Map of current municipalities of Biscay.
Biscay is divided into seven comarcas or regions, each one
with its own capital city, subdivisions and municipalities.
Greater Bilbao, usually divided into subregions:
According to the 2010 INE census,
Biscay has a population of 1,155,772
and its population density of 519.9 hab/km, only surpassed by the one
Madrid and Barcelona. In 1981
Biscay was the fifth Spanish province
in population, and despite the strong demographic crisis the province
has been living since the Transition it is today the ninth province in
Demographic evolution of
percentage of the national total
Most populated municipalities
Government and Foral institutions
The government and foral institutions of Biscay, as a historical
territory of the Basque
Country are the
Juntas Generales de Vizcaya
and the Foral Diputation of Biscay.
Foral Diputation's building in Bilbao.
Juntas Generales of
Biscay are a unicameral assembly that has
normative authority in the province. Its members, called apoderados,
are elected by universal suffrage. The elections are held each four
After the 2015 elections, the configuration of the Juntas is the
Elecciones a las
Juntas Generales 2015
Basque Nationalist Party
Socialist Party of the Basque Country–Basque
The Foral Diputation has an executive function and reglamentary
authority in Biscay. The Foral Diputation is configured by a General
Deputy, who currently is José Luis
Bilbao (PNV) and who is chosen by
Juntas Generales and by the rest of deputies.
The Cantabric Highway.
Biscay is connected to the rest of provinces by two main highways, the
Cantabric Highway, which connects
Durango with the French
border, with accesses in Eibar,
Donostia (the three of
them in the province of Gipuzkoa), and the Basque-Aragonese Highway,
Zaragoza via Tudela,
As well, many secondary roads connect
Bilbao with the different towns
located in the province.
Bilbao's airport, in Loiu.
Biscay's main and only airport is
Bilbao Airport, which is the most
important hub in northern Spain, and the number of passengers using
the new terminal continues to rise. It is located in the
Loiu and Sondika.
Biscay has different commuter rail services, operated by different
Bilbao is the commuter rail service "cercanías"
offered by Renfe, the national rail company. It connects
its neighborhoods with other municipalities and regions inside Biscay,
like Barakaldo, Santurtzi, Portugalete, Muskiz,
Orduña and others.
Bilbao's main train station.
EuskoTren has three commuter rail lines in the province; all of them
start in Bilbao; one connects the city and Greater
Bilbao with the
Durangaldea and finished in
Donostia (in the province of
Gipuzkoa), other line connecting Greater
other serving the
FEVE also offers a commuter rail
service connecting the regions of the Greater
Bilbao with Enkarterri.
Long distance railways
Bilbao-Abando is Biscay's main train station, with regular trains to
other Spanish provinces like Burgos,
Madrid and Barcelona offered by
FEVE also offers long distance trains to
Cantabria and the
Province of León
Province of León in the
Castile and León
Castile and León community.
Basque Y is the name given to the future high-speed rail that will
connect the three cities of the Basque Country;
Bilbao (in Biscay),
Donostia (in Gipuzkoa) and
Vitoria-Gasteiz in Álava.
Main article: Metro Bilbao
Bilbao is a metro system serving the city of
Bilbao and its
metropolitan area, the Greater
Bilbao region. It connects the city
with other municipalities like Basauri, Barakaldo,
Getxo, among others.
Bilbao and the Estuary of Bilbao.
Biscay's capital city, Bilbao, is famous for the Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao and for its estuary.
Monuments and places of general interest
Casa de Juntas of Avellanada.
Casa de Juntas (House of the Juntas) and the Tree of Gernika, both in
Casa de Juntas (House of the Juntas) of Avellanada, in the Enkarterri
Pozalagua Cave in
Karrantza near Balmaseda
Santimamiñe and the Forest of Oma
Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall
Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall in Bilbao.
Urdaibai biosphere reserve
Notes and references
^ Michelena, Luis (1997). Apellidos Vascos. Donostia: Editorial
Txertoa. pp. 75–76. ISBN 84-7148-008-5.
^ "Toponimia: Bizkaia", Noticias de Gipuzkoa, pp. "Ortzadar", 08,
2010-05-08, retrieved 2010-05-08
^ Anton Erkoreka, Los Vikingos en Euskal Herria, Bilbao, 1995
^ "Standard climate values for Bilbao". Aemet.es. Retrieved 29
^ Source: INE, Instituto Nacional de Estadística (Spain).
^ euskadi.net Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Source: INE Instituto Nacional de Estadística de España
(01-01-2010). Real Decreto 2124/2008, de 26 de diciembre 
^ "M24: Hauteskundeak" (in Basque). naiz.info. 24 May 2015.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Biscay.
Señores de Vizcaya: list of all claimed Lords of
interesting historical maps.
Provinces of Spain
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Traditional provinces of the Basque Country
Southern Basque Country
Basque Autonomous Community
French Basque Country
Municipalities in Biscay
Valle de Trápaga-Trapagaran
Abanto y Ciérbana-Abanto Zierbena