The best time to visit Valmaseda is probably during Holy Week, when the town stages the most extraordinary representation of the Passion in the Basque Country. The event, which involves the entire town, begins on Maundy Thursday at 9:00 at night and continues throughout Friday, depicting the different moments leading up to the Burial of Christ.
The town, situated next to the mountains, has long been shaped by the flow of the Cadagua River, a tributary of the Bilbao Estuary, which today separates the residential area from the industrial area. The medieval layout of Valmaseda’s historical quarter is preserved, with four parallel streets at the ends of which are Plaza de San Severino (to the north), which is the heart of the city, and Plaza de los Fueros (to the south). In Plaza de San Severino you’ll find the Parish Church of San Severino, a Gothic church built in the 15th century which includes some Baroque elements, such as the bell gable that crowns the main entrance and the tower, although it was refurbished by Severino de Achúcarro in the 19th century. Inside the church, you can see a beautiful altarpiece in the Chapel of Santo Cristo de la Misericordia, a space which was designed in 1535 by Rasines, a stonemason from Santander.
In Plaza de San Severino you can also find the Town Hall, a classic example of civil architecture which is commonly known as the Mosque of Biscay due to its spacious and stately arcade. It was built in the Baroque style in 1743 by the architect Marcos de Vierna y Pellón, but several later renovations were done throughout the 19th century and early 20th century during Valmaseda’s era of grand transformations.
Next to Plaza de San Juan on Calle Martín Mendía, the street closest to the river, is the Gothic-Renaissance Church of San Juan Bautista, which has undergone several renovations since it was built in the 15th century, including an 18th-century refurbishment of the clock tower which plays the town’s anthem every day at noon, 6pm, and 8pm. Currently the church is not open for worship, as it is the site of the Valmaseda Museum of History. On the same street you can also find the Renaissance mansion of the Marquises of Bumiel, from which point you can see the town’s most iconic construction, the Puente Viejo (Old Bridge) also known as the Romanesque Bridge, which connects the historical quarter and the Cristo neighborhood. Since it was built in the 12th century, it has been the only point in the surrounding area to cross the Cadagua River. Made of stone, it is composed of three arches and a defensive turret in the middle which used to guard the entrance to the city. The customs office was established on the bridge and it was the place where the town’s wealth was concentrated.
On Avenida de las Encartaciones is the 17th-century Santa Clara Monastery which, after being renovated in 1993, is now a hotel. Its church, which has also refurbished, now houses the Valmaseda Interpretation Center of the Living Passion (Centro de Interpretación de la Pasión Viviente de Balmaseda), which is a permanent exhibit of clothing, objects, and images related to this folk reenactment staged during Holy Week.