The Vizkaya bridge is one of those sites that we always wanted to visit, because it is so unique. It’s called a transporter bridge, but it really is a gondola which holds six cars and dozens of people to cross the waterway between the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas, about 13 kilometers west of Bilbao. We had tried to go once before after we’d road tripped in Spain for three weeks seeing some wonderful sights like the Alhambra in Granada, and explored some fantastic towns like Ronda, Jerez de la Frontera, Almadén and eating our way around the country. We loved the churros and chocolate and also the breakfast tostadas. Have you had them?
Well, on that trip we were very interested in the famous ham, pata negra, and we ended the trip driving north through the Extremadura region which is one of the best places for raising the pigs. While there, yep, we bought one. I never knew that the ham leaks. It even has a little cup to catch the oil that seeps from the jamon leg and our car was hot, so there was quite a bit of seepage. It smelled very hammy. At any rate, we decided to drive right past the exit for the Vizcaya Bridge and of course immediately regretted being so close and not going. So, when we went to Bilbao, it was on our “for sure” list and even though it was rainy and chilly, we enjoyed it tremendously.
Built by Alberto Palacio in 1893, it is a marvel of engineering. I had never seen anything like it before and was so excited to buy our tickets and hop on for a ride across the Ibaizabal estuary. Even though the bridge has pretty much run continuously from opening (it was closed for four years during the Spanish war when part of it was dynamited) the day we were there they announced that it was raining and causing some type of issues. It was supposed to open at noon, but we hung around anyway, and only had to wait a few minutes for them to resume service.
When you look up at the supports, it looks just like the Eiffel Tower except it is painted a maroon color. Palaccio had been a student of Eiffel’s and it is really apparent in his choice of girder design. With four steel towers and 70 lightweight cables the gondola has transported over 650 million people and remains one of the most outstanding examples of ingenuity from the Industrial Age in Spain, which is why UNESCO inscribed it in 2006.
Punching our tickets into the gate and waiting in the small lobby for the few minutes it takes the bridge to return to our side I was mesmerized. To think that Palaccio was building a bridge where the trade traffic could still pass when the bridge was functioning was ingenious. With lightweight cables hanging from the crimson supports, the gondola is sturdy enough to handle quite a bit of traffic. It was quiet and enjoyable. There is a place for pedestrians to stand outside of the elements, and we saw bikes, motorcycles, cars, and lots of people using it. It was almost like a ride at Disneyworld, although not fast and more comfortable.
As luck would have it, as soon as we got to the Gexto side it started pouring down rain. We were hungry, and it was time to start looking for lunch. We had a short discussion whether we should stay on that side or go back, get the car and drive on to a restaurant, and that’s what we did. However, we weren’t quite fast enough, so we had to wait, in the rain, for the bridge to do another round trip.
On the way back we couldn’t see as much because the raindrops were huge and obscuring our vision. This is Spain, though, and by the time we got to our original side, Portugalete, it slacked off and there was some beautiful light shining through the clouds. If you are in the neighborhood of Portugalete, have a few extra Euro coins, and 90 seconds to spare, this is probably one of the most interesting and fun world heritage sites that I’ve visited.
Have you ridden on the Vizcaya Bridge in Spain?
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