CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

World banner

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 gala.

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 elsewhere.

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

gallery of Guggenheim museum

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 Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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.


Related stories:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our message boards

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.