Security tight before Guggenheim Museum opens in Basque city
October 18, 1997
Web posted at: 12:33 p.m. EDT (1633 GMT)
BILBAO, Spain (CNN) -- Three times the usual number of police
were on 24-hour alert Saturday to thwart possible separatist
violence, as Spain's King Juan Carlos prepared to open the Guggenheim Museum, an art showcase meant to symbolize a new prosperity in the Basque port city of Bilbao.
At the evening ceremony set for 1800 GMT (2 p.m. EDT), the
king will flip a switch to illuminate the $100 million
futuristic building designed by American architect Frank
Gehry. About 800 international dignitaries are to attend the
The opening is intended to crown revitalization efforts under
way in the former shipbuilding center, and to divert
attention from the Basque armed separatist group ETA, which
was blamed for the death of a policeman earlier in the week.
While the sleek museum has focused international attention on
Bilbao, the ETA has used the occasion to spotlight its cause.
About 5,000 residents of Bilbao, 200 miles north of Madrid,
attended a pre-opening extravaganza outside the museum Friday
night, featuring an outdoor light show and concerts.
Mourners leave flowers on museum grounds
Flowers left by mourners marked the spot on the museum
grounds where policeman Jose Maria Aguirre was shot and
killed Monday as he questioned three men unloading flower
arrangements from a van. Police later found machine guns and
grenades hidden among the flower pots.
Two of the gunmen fled, including the killer. A third was
captured and admitted membership in the ETA, whose initials
stand for Basque Homeland and Liberty. More than 800 people
have died since the group began fighting for Basque
independence in 1968.
Some 100,000 people marched through Bilbao Thursday to
protest the policeman's killing.
Threat of violence remains
Meanwhile, ETA's political wing Herri Batsuna and a group of
Basque artists called for protests against the opening of the
museum and the king's planned visit. They groups see the
building as a symbol of cultural imperialism and
extravagance, and say the money could be better spent
There was a threat of further violence Saturday by the ETA.
Posters in Bilbao's old quarter that targeted the king read,
"We are going after you," and pictured the monarch with three
masked ETA guerrillas in the background.
Museum seen as keystone of Bilbao revival
The museum, with wavy walls of shiny titanium, is considered the crowning glory of Bilbao's
multi-billion-dollar redevelopment plan. With 256,000 square feet, it has more exhibition space than the three Guggenheim collections in New York and Venice combined.
The Bilbao collection will feature 242 works of modern and
contemporary art by such masters as Pablo Picasso, Marc
Chagall, Henri Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Klee and
Bilbao, a former shipbuilding and steel-manufacturing center,
will also have a new subway system, high-tech business area,
high-speed railway, enlarged airport, convention center and
new opera hall as part of its redevelopment scheme.
The decrepit port area, once Bilbao's main source of income,
is being moved to make room for a chic shopping district.
The projects are aimed at attracting visitors and stimulating
business and development.
"I think the Guggenheim is fantastic," one concert-goer said
Friday night. "We need something like this to show the world
that we are not just about violence. We Basques are proud
that we built this international museum. It shows our
capacity, our culture."
Reuters contributed to this report.