With a population of 229.483, Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque Country and the province of Álava. The city was founded in 1181 by king Sancho VI of Navarra (called “the Wise”) with the name of Nueva Vitoria, next to the primitive Visigoth village of Gasteiz.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is divided into two parts: the upper part, which corresponds to the Old Town, is situated up the hill, whereas the modern city developed on the foothills. Vitoria, once a station on the Way of St. James, is an appreciated tourist destination and an important trade centre, thanks to its strategic position along the road which connected the region of Castille with Northern Europe ever since the 13th century.
The city abounds in green areas and parks and can boast a rich artistic and cultural heritage. The Old Town, with the medieval district which was declared national monument in 1987, is called Almendra Medieval (Medieval Almond) and it is characterised by typical houses with leaning balconies (miradores).
Right on the highest point of the Campillo hill, in the heart of the Old Town, lies one of Vitoria’s most important buildings: the old Saint Mary Cathedral, or Catedral Vieja, a splendid gothic cathedral dating from the XIII/XIV century. The building is characterised by a Latin cross plan with groin vaults and apses with aisle. Originally, the church acted as a fortress and was part of the medieval defence system.
In proximity of the cathedral are several ancient streets, each named after the city corporations of the sewers, the blacksmiths exc, with many Renaissance buildings. Among these, particularly worthy of note are the Escoriaza-Esquibel Palace, the palace of Urbina Zárate, the house of Maturana-Verástegui, the Portalón, the Anda tower and Bendaña Palace.
The tour proceeds onward with the visit of the new town, the so called Ensanche, where one can admire the los Fueros Monument, dedicated to the social liberties conquered by the Basque population, a work by the sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Not far from here you will find the new Cathedral (Cathedral de María Inmaculada), built in neo gothic style at the beginning of the XX century. Close to the cathedral stands the Basque Parliament (XIX century), seat of the autonomous parliament of the Basque Country.
The ARTIUM museum is probably the most important museum in town. It was inaugurated in 2002, and it is one of the largest contemporary art museums in Spain. Inside one can admire a superb collection of Basque and Spanish art from the beginning of the XX century up to these days.
Other interesting museums are
- the Archeological Museum, in Plaza de la Burullería
- the Museum of Fine Arts, which can be found in the bizarre house-hotel of the Duke Dávila
- the Museum of Weapons (Museo de Armeria) dedicated to weapons and armours of the XV-XVI century
- the curious Fournier de Naipes Museum, with the world’s largest collection of playing cards
Vitoria has an intense cultural life. Its long music tradition culminates with the Festival de Jazz de Vitoria. Every year in July internationally acclaimed musicians from all over the world gather up in the streets of Vitoria to entertain visitors and citizens with their music.
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