Bilbao bēlbä´ō [key], city (1990 pop. 383,798), capital of Vizcaya prov., N Spain, in the Basque Country, on both banks of the Nervión River, near the Bay of Biscay. A leading Spanish port and commercial center since the 19th cent., it is at the heart of an important industrial area with iron mines nearby. Its banks make it a financial center. Steel, chemicals, and ships are the chief manufactures, though they have declined. Bilbao is also a center for high technology firms. It has a subway, an opera house, and several museums, including the Museum of Fine Art; the Basque Archaeological, Ethnographical, and Historical Museum; and the spectacular Guggenheim Museum (1997). Founded c.1300 on the site of an ancient settlement, Bilbao flourished because of a wool export trade in the 15th and 16th cent. In the 19th cent. it was besieged by the Carlists three times. In the Spanish civil war , Bilbao was the seat of the Basque autonomous government from 1936 until its capture (1937) by the Nationalists.
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