Inauguration and international impact

The Hanging Bridge (Puente Colgante) was inaugurated on 28th July 1893, a shuttle linking the towns of Las Arenas, on the right bank of the Bilbao river, and Portugalete on the left bank. The massive iron structure, superb testimony to Vizcaya’s significant industrialization at the end of the 19th century, defying the day’s storm. Its 400,000 rivets on steel pieces and its 4 towers each 51 metres high – two on each side – resisting the gusts of wind, helped by 8 metal cables. A 160 metre long deck, towering 45 metres over the estuary, linking the two towns, symbolises the triumph of man and his technology over the adversity of nature and over the difficulty of such a grandiose construction project.

The official inauguration of the Bizkaia Bridge took place on July 28, 1893, after a little over three years since the start of the construction.

The transport gondola took people all day following the mass celebrated on board to bless the work. The people enjoyed the new monument without knowing that it would with time become part of the natural landscape of the mouth of Bilbao’s river. A structure which, apart from the gondola and some retouches in 1999 during the last remodelling, has remained the same during the entire 20th century. It was the first hanging shuttle bridge in the entire world.

It started with a banquette held at a hotel in Las Arenas

to which all of the governmental and religious authorities were invited. After the feast a mass was said on board the gondola, and then the priest, the parish priest of San Nicolás de Bari, in Algorta, blessed the Bridge.

After these acts the spectators who had amassed around the construction broke through the controls and swarmed onto the gondola which had to operate right into the evening due to the pressure by the enthusiastic visitors

Coinciding with an official visit to the province on 5th August 1893, Her Royal Highness Princess Isabel of Borbon visited Portugalete to see the new construction. She was so pleasantly surprised that she made the trip more than six times. At the end of the visit she gave Mr Alberto Palacio a signed photograph to commemorate the event.

The Vizcaya Hanging Bridge is without doubt the most international work by a unique man, its designer Mr Alberto de Palacio y Elissague. It was the first construction of this type in the world.

the magazine Scientific American

In 1869 (24 years later) published a project for a hanging shuttle bridge designed by the engineer J.V. Morse between New York and Brooklyn, and the first volume of Engineering Wonders of the World, published in 1914, contained another project from 1873 (20 years later) by the engineer Charles Smith, between Middlesbrough and Port Clarence. However none of these projects was carried out before the Vizcaya Hanging Bridge.

The similarity in the construction with other internationally renowned contemporary iron structures, like the Eiffel Tower, as well as the personal friendship between both designers (Eiffel and Palacio), also contributed to the internationalisation of the Vizcaya Hanging Bridge ( Puente Colgante), less monumentally grand but much more practical.

His Royal Highness King Alfonso XIII visited the Vizcaya Hanging Bridge on board his yacht Giralda on his first visit to Bilbao port to see the new construction work. A massive star was to be hung from the bridge for the visit but unfortunately it fell into the water without fulfilling its ornamental task.