The transporter bridge that connects Las Arenas and Portugalete is the most famous bridge in Bizkaia and one of the most famous in Europe. Suspended from an impressive metal structure, the gondola transporter connects the Greater Bilbao districts of Portugalete and Getxo with a service that runs every few minutes. Designed by Alberto Palacio, the bridge boasts four 61 metre-high towers which are joined horizontally by a 45-metre-high, 160 metre-long crossbeam. 125 years old this year, it still runs like clockwork and is currently one of Bilbao’s major tourist attractions.
Inaugurated on July 28, 1893, the ‘Puente Bizkaia’, the bridge’s official name, is considered a work of art for its beauty, innovation, and functionality. An icon of Bizkaia’s iron heritage and 19th century industrialization, the transporter bridge is located near the mouth of the estuary and connects the suburban districts of Getxo and Portugalete. The Puente Bizkaia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.
In the 1890’s, the region experienced an industrial boom so a bridge was needed to connect the two banks of the Nervion Estuary while still allowing merchant ships to sail up and down the river. The resulting design was innovative and cost-effect, successfully meeting the needs of a rapidly-growing population. Today, it continues to fulfil an important role in taking people and vehicles across the river.
The bridge boasts a unique design which combines aspects of architecture and engineering: a fixed structure and a mechanical transporter system. The bridge was designed and patented by Bizkaia architect Don Alberto Palacio Elissague, who also supervised its construction which took place between 1890 and 1893.
Almost from the start, it was known locally as ‘el Puente Colgante’, or the hanging bridge. Originally, it was painted black, today, however, it sports a shade called Somorrostro Red. Guided tours of the bridge are available, showing visitors the anchoring mechanism, terraces and lifts. Those who cross the 45-metre-high walkway will be rewarded with unbeatable views of the river and the sea. Visits must be booked in advance. Don’t worry if you’re travelling with your pet, the bridge is dog-friendly.
At the end of 2018, the bridge will host the Basque Government’s Industrial Tourism Forum. It has also served as the venue for a variety of events featuring music, folklore, Basque improved verse-singing, sculpture, exhibitions, food, regattas, and popular races.
Not bad for a 125-year-old!
Other transporter bridges
Several other cantilevered transporter bridges were built during the same period as the Puente Bizkaia. Some noteworthy examples include: Rochefort-Martrou (France, 1900), Dulun (USA, 1905), Newport (United Kingdom, 1906), Osten-Hemmoor (Germany, 1909), Middlesbrough (United Kingdom, 1911), Osterrönfeld-Rendsburg (Germany, 1913), Buenos Aires (Argentina, 1915) and Warrington (United Kingdom, 1916). Several are still in use today. Maybe there’s one near you!