Parroquia de San Nicolas de Bari

The church of San Nicolás is part of the landscape of the area of El Arenal in the city of Bilbao. An octagonal 14C building, it was completely renovated in the 18C in baroque style; the old pillars from the shrine served as the foundations. Inside there is a fine wooden altar and sculptures by Juan de Mena. The church of San Nicolas de Bari is worth visiting during your stay in Bilbao. the Church is not usually amongst the most interesting things to do in Bilbao, but we believe it makes sense to stop in front of it and enjoy its baroque facade. if the Gates are open, a short visit will reveal some interesting statues and a few anecdotes!

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History of the Church of San Nicolas in Bilbao

The Arenal is a very pleasant promenade today, but this was not always the case. El Arena was a marshy area located outside of Bilbao. It was a fishermen’s district. The Arenal translates literally as the “sandy place” and a pier existed here.

The Church of San Nicolás we find today is built on an old medieval hermitage. This hermitage was built in honor of San Nicolas de Bari, patron saint of sailors. The hermitage was expanded as the population in the area developed, but this church was totally destroyed by the important floods that took place in Bilbao in 1553.

Today´s church of San Nicolás de Bari was completed in 1756 and is a Baroque building. The area where it stands is very different from the place where the church originally stood. Think of docks, grey warehouses, and mood… if you get the picture right and you walk through the Arenal today you will understand the deep transformation of the city of Bilbao during the last part of the XXth century.

Church of San Nicolas – highlights

The best-known feature of the church of San Nicolas is its façade. Decorated with a bronze relief, it is its two towers on its sides that concentrate most of the attention. Something of special interest about this church is in its plant. A careful look at its architecture reveals that the plant is Greek, and not the most traditional Latin plant. The Greek cross plan is built inside a square and it is covered by an interesting octagonal dome.
If you pay attention to its façade you will identify the coat of arms of Bilbao, which is carved on the façade

Inside the interior of the church of San Nicolas, the most interesting items we find are a collection of sculptures by Juan Pascual de Mena. Juan Pascual de Mena was an important sculptor in Spain, an artist from the Royal Academy of San Fernando, and with works spread in different corners of Spain, including the Cathedral of Toledo or the Royal statues in the Oriente Square in Madrid. His most well-known work is probably the statue of Neptune in Madrid near the Prado museum.

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