Basque Fact of the Week: Bermeo, not Bilbao, was Originally the Capital of Bizkaia

Bermeo, a town of about 17,000 on the Bizkaia coast, was founded between 1234 and 1239 by Lope Diaz de Haro. Bermeo was the capital of Bizkaia between 1476 and 1602, at which time Bilbao was made the capital of the province.

Historical coats of arms of Bizkaia, from the Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
  • Bermeo’s history begins in 1051, with the monastery of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (meaning “the craggy fort” in Basque), which has gained recent fame as one of the filming sites of the series Game of Thrones.
  • Bilbao, founded in 1300, gained strength through a series of charters that, amongst other things, forced an important trade route to go through Bilbao.
  • From about 1040 to 1876, Bizkaia was ruled by the Lord of Bizkaia. One legend says that the first mythical Lord of Bizkaia, Çuria (in other tellings, Jaun Zuria — the White Lord), was the son of the god Sugaar and a foreign (typically Scottish) princess and was born in the village of Mundaka (now famous for surfing).

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