Class Split of Bilbao & its Impact on the Regional Identity

When completing our initial research before the trip to Bilbao I mainly focused on the socio-economic split of the city. From this research that was carried out it seemed to suggest that the city of Bilbao was clearly split by the river, with working class on the left side due to the industries that were present. The right side of the river is where the city centre is located and is also where the majority of upper and middle class housing is situated.

From our trip to Bilbao my perspective is that this research did not always seem the case. In this photograph the housing on the left of the river does not look typically like working class accommodation. However, there were occasions when walking through parts of the city that are situated on the left side of the river where the housing did appear to conform to this idea of the socio-economic split of the city.

This photograph shows housing that I would say is more typically seen as working class accommodation. This is because compared to the housing seen in other areas of Bilbao that we visited, such as the areas that are classed as middle class according to Plöger’s city report on Bilbao, they generally are fairly similar to housing that is seen in the UK. The signifiers in this photograph that give the impression of a working class property are the tall blocks of flats, the quite dirty appearance of the bricks and the shutters that are on all of the windows.

Conversi argues that the diminishing Basque culture was directly affected by the growing industrialisation of the area. “Throughout the industrial areas of Euskadi (the Basque Country), traditional culture was mostly erased by modernity in the form of urbanization, industrialization, and occupational de-skilling. The rise of a rich bourgeois class was accompanied by the destitution of previously rural labourers, small holders and lesser industrialists, and by the growth of a newly dispossessed urban proletariat.” Conversi also states that this development lead to the notion of Basque nationalism as it was the areas that were most affected by industrialisation that Basque nationalism was most prominent. However, this theory on Basque nationalism is in relation to the industrialisation that occurred pre-Franco era. Having said that, during the reign on General Franco Basque nationalism altered from being a response to the growing urbanisation of the region to being a struggle to uphold the traditions of the Basque people at all. “nationalism was no longer a response to industrialization. Now it was a matter of the very survival of the Basque nation. While most Basques had to deal with a ferocious dictatorship which did not hesitate to use torture in order to extort confessions from militants, Basque culture appeared to be under a final threat.” (Conversi, 2012).

From this idea that the growing industrialisation and urbanisation in the Basque region contributed to the nationalism of the Basque people at the time before General Franco era, it could be applied to more recent waves of globalisation and how that has affected the Basque’s regional identity. It would be difficult to give a completely accurate view on how it is affected due to the relatively small amount of Bilbao that we visited, and even smaller amount of the Basque region. However, before visiting we all had the preconception that the main language spoken was going to be Basque, but instead the majority of people we met spoke Spanish. In a city that has a growing tourism industry this could be a factor as to why the Basque language was being overtaken by Spanish. It is interesting to see the conflicting components of the Basque national identity, where the language is rarely used but should be more prominent as part of the Basque culture compared to the Athletic Bilbao football that only signs players from the region, and is very obviously an important factor of their city and a club that every local resident is fiercely proud of.


Conversi, Daniele  (2012)

Plöger, Jörg (2012)