Memories of Zorrozaurre

Last week, I jumped into my time machine and zipped 38 years into the past, to 1973, a year of inflation, oil price increases, unemployment, recession in Europe, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and so on. In my opinion, this feels a lot like today. Don’t you agree? I have the feeling that we are still facing the same problems today. 1973 also happens to be the year I began to work in Zorrozaurre

Zorrozaurre, a former port and industrial district of Bilbao, is a peninsula located between the right bank of the river Nervion and the Deusto Channel. What is amazing is that this area, now a degraded space after decades of industrial activity, is within walking distances from most of the new icons of the post-industrial Bilbao. A plan has been approved to renew the neighborhood but it seems to go very slowly because it requires a lot of money.

I hadn’t been there for almost 25 years. Wow, time really flies by! Last week I was given the chance to go on a tour. I didn’t think twice. The tour was given by LA HACERIA, a cultural association, to experience the history and future of Zorrozaurre and learn about the different projects they have in line with the initiative ZAWP (Zorrotzaurre Art Working Progress), a reference of creation and innovation.

For about 50 minutes, a little tourist train took us into the past and present of the glory days of Zorrozaurre. During the visit, we stopped several times and saw warehouses, old factories with saw-tooth roofs, red brick buildings, four stories high factories, a lot of broken window panes and the small village that co-exists with the factories where one can see buildings of over a hundred years old.

Going into those empty shop floors, hurtled me back to the past, back to times of blue collar workers, hard work, long hours, Trade Unions and old buddies. It brought me back to forgotten memories.

There was a time when the place was full of workers. Factories that opened 24 hours a day carrying out their frantic activity to produce tarpaulins, transformers, engines, heating elements, batteries, metal casting, mattresses, cookies and so on. People needed to cross from one river bank to the other to get to their working places. Small boats, called “gasolino or bote”, linked the two banks of the river at two different points, one of them in Toldos Goyoaga, the tarpaulin factory. It was a popular spot because
hundreds of women took the boat everyday to work in the Artiach cookie factory. Men were standing outside their shop floors to watch the women passing by. Times with no computers, only manual typewriters that required skilled typist and a lot of finger strength. Strikes that lasted months and working class assemblies that were meetings of thousands of workers asking for labor demands, raises in their wages and less working hours. The flood of 1983 severely damaged the area and many people lost
their jobs. Factories were closed and we were involved in clean-up activities. For more than a month, we were only removing the mud from our working places. There were also small bars where you couldn’t get served for the crush, people that rushed to the bar after lunch to have a coffee and glass of “sol y sombra” (sun and shade), that is half anis and half Spanish brandy.

Today, Zorrozaurre is not a hive of industry but it is still a lively place. It is less noisy and polluted than before. There are lots of original industrial features, buildings that reflect old times, a lot of graffiti, artwork on metal shutters, artists creating their form of artwork, four bars still open, 500 people living there and several thousand working there, more of less.

I am sure better times may lie ahead for Zorrozaurre.

Thanks to Aritza, Ruth, Manu, the cookers, the jazz musicians and ……sorry I don’t remember more names but I want to thank them too, I had a wonderful evening!

If you are interested, don’t miss out! Book a greeter, and we will be more than happy to share this place with you.

Here, as a taster, is a selection of pictures.

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