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River Nervion with Zubizuri footbridge.
Country Spain
Region Basque Country
Districts Álava, Biscay
 - left Kadagua, Galindo
 - right Altube, Ibaizabal, Asua
City Bilbao
Source Delika canyon
 - location Sierra Salbada, Álava, Spain
 - elevation 1,000 m (3,281 ft)
Mouth Estuary of Bilbao
 - location Bay of Biscay between Portugalete and Getxo, Spain
 - elevation m (0 ft)
Length 72 km (45 mi)
Basin 1,900 km2 (734 sq mi)
Discharge for Portugalete and Getxo
 - average 9.6 m3/s (339 cu ft/s)
Wikimedia Commons: Nervión
Website: Greater Bilbao Water Authority
Delika canyon and waterfall.

The river Nervión runs through the city of Bilbao, Spain into the Cantabrian Sea (Bay of Biscay). It is also known as Estuary of Bilbao on its final tract, from the joining with Ibaizabal river to the sea.



The river is 72km long from its source at the Burgos and Alava provincial limits to the sea and runs in South to North direction. Soon after its source, the river forms a spectacular 300m waterfall in the Delika canyon (Alava) and then enters the Biscay province through the town of Orduña. It goes into Alava again through the towns of Amurrio and Llodio. Then the river runs again into the Biscay province until the Cantabrian sea, entering the Bilbao metropolitan area at Ugao-Miraballes. The tidal influence reaches 15km inland from the sea, at Bilbao's old town.

The main tributaries are:

  • From the west:Cadagua and Galindo.
  • From the east: Arratia, Ibaizabal and Asua.

Ibaizabal is considered by some to be an equally important river, so the whole system is often called Nervion-Ibaizabal and the final tract just "Estuary of Bilbao". The basin area is 1.900 km².



Despite its current success in Spanish use, the traditional name of the stretch between the estuary and Basauri, where both Ibaizabal and Nervión merge, is Ibaizabal (meaning 'wide river' in Basque), according to historical evidence tracing back to the XIth century and up to the XXth. The literature writer native of Bilbao Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) as well as mayor of Bilbao Javier Ybarra (1913-1977) refer to it as Ibaizabal. Geological and hydrological data also seem to support that assumption.[1]

History and Economy

The final tract of the Nervion is a waterway of great importance.

From ancient times, the Orduña pass that links Spain's inner plateau with the Nervion valley has had a great economic impact. During the Middle Age it served as a natural border between the Biscay lordship and Castile counties, entry taxes were collected there. Through the centuries, the Nervion valley was a vital communication corridor for Biscay, and the main railroad from Bilbao to the rest of Spain was constructed following the river in 1870.

At the same time, Bilbao developed a great commercial activity, with its seaport being the most important in the north coast of Spain. The port's activity relied totally in the navigability of the river in its final 15km. So engineer Evaristo Churruca developed an enormous project that would solve the traditional navigation problems of the river.

Now the Nervión river has lost economic importance, the navigable part of the river is being abandoned in favour of the external port, to allow urban development to take place in the banks of the river after the dismantlement of the industry.


After a century of intense industrial activity the river, especially the final 25km, was ecologically dead with oxygen levels 20% below the norm, being one of the most polluted rivers in the world. In 1990 the local authorities launched a plan to overcome this situation, resulting in a constant improvement of the environmental status that after 15 years has transformed the Nervion in a clean river, full of aquatic life.


  1. ^ "Bilboko itsasadarra ibai zabala da". Santurtziko Udal Euskaltegia. Retrieved 2008-05-16.   Article in Basque

External links

Coordinates: 43°19′31.82″N 3°01′09.74″W / 43.3255056°N 3.0193722°W / 43.3255056; -3.0193722


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