Vitoria-Gasteiz's vicinity is home to world-renowned wineries such as Ysios (by Santiago Calatrava) and the Marqués de Riscal Hotel (by Frank Gehry); relevant heritage sites including the Neolithic remains of Aizkomendi, Sorginetxe and La chabola de la Hechicera; Iron Age remains such as the settlements of Lastra and Buradón; antique remains such as the settlement of La Hoya and the salt valley of Añana; and countless medieval fortresses such as the Tower of Mendoza and the Tower of Varona.
Beethoven dedicated his Opus 91, often called the "Battle of Vitoria" or "Wellington's Victory", to one of the most notorious historical events of the Napoleonic wars; the Battle of Vitoria, in which a Spanish, Portuguese and British army under the command of General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army and nearly captured Joseph Bonaparte. It was a pivotal point in the Peninsular War eventually leading to the defeat of Bonaparte. A memorial statue can be seen today in Virgen Blanca Square.
In 581 AD, the Visigoth king Liuvigild founded the city of Victoriacum, trying to emulate the Roman foundations, as a celebration of the victory against the Vascones near what is assumed to be the hill occupied by the primitive village of Gasteiz. This however is not sufficiently proven, and some historians and experts believe that Victoriacum was located not on the site of present-day Vitoria-Gasteiz but nearby. Several possible locations have been proposed, the foremost of which is the late Roman military camp of Iruña-Veleia (cf. J.M. Lacarra). Veleia is located some 11 km north of modern Vitoria, on the banks of the same river. However, modern archeological studies of the site suggest that Veleia was last inhabited c.5th century AD, and archeologists are still to find a 6th-century visigothic resettlement in the site. Another theory has suggested that Victoriacum was located at the foot of Mount Gorbea where there is a village called Vitoriano. The town of Armentia, nowadays in the outskirts of Vitoria, has also been proposed as a possible location of Victoriacum. In either case, Victoriacum vanishes from history shortly after its foundation.
In 1181, Sancho the Wise, King of Navarre founded the town of Nova Victoria as a defensive outpost on top of a hill at the site of the previous settlement of Gasteiz. The existence of Gastehiz, apparently inhabited by vasconic people, can be traced back to the lower Middle Ages; it is certain that by the 11th century, prior to the foundation of Nova Victoria, the settlement was already walled. It is assumed that Sancho the Wise gave the new city its name in memory of the old settlement of Victoriacum, which must had long since been abandoned. In 1199, the town was besieged and captured by the troops of Alfonso VIII of Castile, who annexed the town to the Kingdom of Castile. The town was progressively enlarged and in 1431 it was granted a city charter by King Juan II of Castile. In 1463, it was one of the five founding villas of the Brotherhood of Álava alongside Sajazarra, Miranda de Ebro, Pancorbo and Salvatierra/Agurain.
The Battle of Vitoria of the Peninsular War occurred near Vitoria-Gasteiz along the river Zadorra on 21 June 1813. An allied British, Portuguese, and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan. The victory assured the eventual end of French control in Spain. There is a monument commemorating this battle in the main square of the city known as the Monument to Independence.
When news came to Vienna in late July of that year, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel commissioned Ludwig van Beethoven to compose a symphony, the op. 91 Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria (Wellington's Victory, or the Battle of Vitoria) or Siegessymphonie.
Work began on the Institute for Middle Education in 1843, with classes beginning during the 1853–54 academic year. It is now current headquarters of the Basque Parliament and formerly the convent of Santa Clara. The Free University opened in the wake of the revolution of 1868. The University operated from 1869, to just prior to the 1873–1874 term, largely because of the second Carlist War. Chief academics were Ricardo Becerro de Bengoa, Julián Apraiz, Federico Baraibar, and so on. This latter, great Hellenist (1851–1918), was also among the first teachers of Basque in Vitoria-Gasteiz as an off-syllabus subject.
During the Spanish transition to democracy, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi was the scene of a police shooting on March 3, 1976 during a peaceful labour assembly. Under the orders of Interior Minister Manuel Fraga, the police shot tear-gas into the church where 5,000 demonstrators and others had reunited, firing on them as they struggled their way out of the religious temple. It resulted in five dead and over one hundred wounded by gunshot.
On 20 May 1980, by decision of the Basque Parliament, Vitoria-Gasteiz became the place of the common institutions of the Basque Autonomous Community.
Vitoria-Gasteiz has an oceanic climate (Cfb) under the Köppen climate classification, typical of the Basque country. Winters are much cooler than in lowland coastal areas, whilst summers are similar in terms of high temperatures, with cool nights due to the elevation. Summers show a significant influence of mediterranean precipitation patterns, but enough precipitation usually occurs to remain marine in nature. Sunshine levels are low by Spanish standards and the climate is humid year-round.Cathedral of Santa Maria (Old Cathedral), a 14th-century Gothic building with a 17th-century tower. Under the pórtico are three open doorways decorated with statues and reliefs. In the interior, chapels containing Gothic, Flemish and Italian Renaissance images including paintings by Rubens and van Dyck. The cathedral is undergoing restoration and has been studied by experts from around the world for its architectural curiosities, including those deformations which it has suffered due to previous restorations.
Cathedral of Mary Immaculate (New Cathedral), built and consecrated in the 20th century, in High Gothic style.
Andre Maria Zuriaren plaza/Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. It is a square to which converge some of the most typical streets of the old town and the 19th-century city expansion and is surrounded by old houses with glass verandas. At its center stands a monument commemorating the Battle of Vitoria.
Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art of Álava, located in the building's ambulatory, houses samples of religious art heritage of the province, divided into sections of stone carving, wood carving, painting on wood, paint on canvas, jewelry and furniture liturgical.
Church of St. Peter the Apostle (14th century) in Gothic style. The Old Portico, with a set of reliefs depicting scenes from the lives of St. Peter and the Virgin Mary, run under the pictures of the Virgin and the apostles.
Church of St. Michael the Archangel (14th–16th centuries), in Gothic-Renaissance style. Its portico has an image of the Virgen Blanca, patron saint of the city. Inside is an altarpiece by Gregorio Fernández.
Church of San Vicente Mártir. A late Gothic building from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Church of the Carmen. A neoclassical temple built between 1897 and 1900.
Basilica of San Prudencio. Its original construction dates to the 12th century, but it was rebuilt in the 18th century. The temple houses sculptural samples from different eras and artists.
Romanesque Sanctuary of Our Lady of Estibaliz. Located in the town of Argandoña, 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Vitoria-Gasteiz, it dates to the 11th century.
Convent of Saint Anthony. A Clares nunnery from the 17th century.
Convent of Santa Cruz. Dominican nunnery from the 17th century.
Former hospice (16th–17th centuries), originally the Colegio de San Prudencio.
Old Portico, Church of San Pedro
Casa del Cordón, an example of civil Gothic architecture. It was built in the 15th century, but has kept a tower from the 13th century. The Catholic Monarchs stayed here, and Adrian VI was named Pope while residing here.
Basque Museum of Contemporary Art (Artium). Its permanent collection is considered one of the best and most important contemporary art in Basque and Spanish. It was inaugurated on April 26, 2002.
Museum of Natural Sciences, located in the Tower of Otxanda Andrea, an example of medieval architecture. It is also a center for research and dissemination of Natural Sciences.
Museum of Archaeology, located in a house of wood lattice from the 16th century. The exhibition includes dolmens, Roman sculptures found in Álava, and medieval pieces.
Fournier Museum of Playing Cards, in the Bendaña palace. Vitoria-Gasteiz is known for the manufacture of playing cards. More than 6,000 cards are displayed in the museum.
Museum of Fine Arts, housed in a Renaissance mansion. It displays 14th-century carvings, Flemish 16th-century triptychs, panels of Spanish masters such as Jusepe de Ribera and modern Spanish paintings.
Arms Museum of Álava is home to weapons from various ages, from prehistoric axes to 20th-century handguns. There is a large collection of medieval weaponry and reconstruction of the Battle of Vitoria.
Montehermoso Cultural Center, housed in restored 16th-century buildings, formerly headquarters of the Diocese of Vitoria. In 1997, with the annexation of the former water tank, the property became the Montehermoso Cultural Center, designed as a space for art exhibitions and musical performances.
Plaza de España or Plaza Nueva. A large arcaded plaza designed by the architect Antonio de Olaguibel in 1781 and designed to unite the old town with the new Story, then under construction.
The Arkupe/Arquillos. This road was built with porticoes between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Ajuria Enea, the seat of President of the Basque Government (Lehendakari) since 1980. It was built in 1918 as the main residence of the family of the local entrepreneur Serafin Ajuria, and it is a fine example of the Basque architecture of the period.
Ataria, an information and interpretation centre for the wetlands of Salburua, an important nature park on the eastern edge of the city.
The Great Sequoia, a 40-metre tall tree dating back to 1860
The economy of Vitoria-Gasteiz is diverse, and many manufacturing companies have operations there, including Mercedes-Benz, Michelin, Gamesa, and Heraclio Fournier, the latter being headquartered there. The city has been ranked second in standard of living among all cities in Spain, and first as to green areas and cultural places per capita.
Vitoria-Gasteiz hosts two annual international music festivals:The International Music Festival/Course Vitoria-Gasteiz, from 18 to 27 July (the 2011 Edition)
The Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival, from 10 to 16 July (the 2011 Edition).
The Azkena rock festival, on 29 & 30 June (the 2013 Edition).
The Andre Maria Zuriaren jaiak/Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca festival is celebrated every year from the 4th to the 9th of August in honour of the patron saint of the city, and features a programme of special events, activities and free open-air concerts.
San Prudencio's Festival is also celebrated in late April..
The liberal arts section of the University of the Basque Country is based in the south part of the city. Focusing on history and linguistics, the Álava campus is also home of the Faculty of Pharmacy, as well as some other technical, teaching and business related degrees.
Its origins date back to 1847 when the first Escuela Normal de Maestros de Álava was established. A number of other colleges and faculties were adopted in 1978 by the emerging University of the Basque Country.
In the urban area of Vitoria-Gasteiz there is modern and accessible-for-all public transport, in the form of trams and city buses.
By road: Vitoria-Gasteiz is connected both with the rest of the Basque capital and with Madrid, because the city is a step on the N-1/A-1. There are two motorways in their municipality and a future motorway service: The N-1 Madrid-Irun, the N-622 Vitoria-Altube and its connection with the AP-68 Logroño-Bilbao, and as of the end of 2009, the new AP-1 between Vitoria and Eibar, an attempt to alleviate the problems caused by congested traffic on the N-1/A-1.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is one of the main stops on the Madrid-Irun railway line. Half a dozen trains each day link the city with Madrid, using Alvia trains on the AVE infrastructure to reach Madrid in 3 hours 43 minutes. There are also connections to Paris, Barcelona, Lisbon and Bordeaux. There is a complete lack of rail services to Andalusia and no direct rail link with Bilbao.
By 2020, the Basque Y high-speed rail network is expected to be completed and connect Vitoria-Gasteiz with the French border, San Sebastián and Bilbao within 35 minutes.
The Vitoria Airport is 4th in Spain in cargo traffic. Almost all passenger flights use Bilbao Airport (50 minutes away by car), which is the 2nd most important base for Vueling, with the second highest number of destinations offered and 4 million passengers traffic.
From an urban point of view, Vitoria-Gasteiz is a mid-sized city, the line of which is adapted to the traditions of each historical moment. The medieval town is set in almond-shape around the hill foundation, which by its privileged position as the only elevation in the plain of Álava, became a defensive stronghold coveted by the kingdoms of Navarre and Castilla during the 11th and 12th centuries. The walled enclosure was built prior to the war between Castile and Navarre in the 11th century to defend the village. The defensive walls of old Gasteiz were built between the years 1050 and 1100. Because of that first defensive role, its narrow streets surrounding the oval resulted in compact rows of houses parallel both to each other and the medieval walls (of which only some sections and gates are preserved). Between the years 1854 and 1856, an epidemic of cholera served as the excuse for tearing down the gates, fortresses which provided access to the streets Run (fort of Nanclares), Shoe (fort of Soto) and Blacksmith (fort of Abendaño) and which served to protect every neighbourhood association. The entrance of the current Plaza de la Virgen Blanca was the site of Santa Clara, which was joined by the wall at the Convent of San Antonio. In the 19th century, in recognition that the city was small, an expansion was planned in the neoclassical style, and little by little planning for the city has given Vitoria-Gasteiz its current form.
The Old Quarter (Alde Zaharra/Casco Viejo), has many architectural jewels such as Bendaña Palace, the Fournier Museum of cards (erected in 1525 by Juan Lopez de Arrieta, on the site occupied before by the defensive tower built by Maeztu). The Ezkoriatza-Eskibel Palace, built by Claudio de Arciniega in the 15th century. The Villa Suso, where Martin Salinas, ambassador of Charles V dwelt (16th century). And the greatest historical treasure of Vitoria-Gasteiz: the Cathedral of Santa Maria (Old Cathedral).
The history of the Cathedral of Santa María (commonly known as Old Cathedral), is itself a synthesis of the history of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Built on the cemetery of the primitive village of Gasteiz (which today can be accessed through the excavations), the church of Santa María collapsed with the fire of 1202, and Alfonso VIII of Castile (who had conquered the city just 2 years earlier), ordered that it be rebuilt at the site of a former church that was to serve two very different purposes: regular religious services and weapon storage. Thus was born the Cathedral of Santa Maria, a fortress-like church that served as the entrance to the city. The project changed with the centuries, so that each modification was made without taking into account the previous. This was the case in the 15th century (when the church became collegiate), and finally in the 1960s, when it was decided to reverse the previous works of strengthening of the external walls and widen the windows, made purely for aesthetic reasons, which had severely damaged the stability of the building. Today, the cathedral is open again, and offers visitors guided trips exposing the recent archaeological findings. It has become one of the main attractions of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Ken Follett, author of "The Pillars of the Earth", said after his stay in the city that Santa Maria was one of the three most interesting cathedrals of the world.
From the Middle Ages to the 18th century, the population of Vitoria-Gasteiz and the layout of its streets remained almost unchanged. And it was not until the late 18th century, when growth required the expansion of the city outside. To solve the problem of the difference in height between the original kernel on the hill, and the plain below, the arches were erected and the Plaza De España or Plaza Nueva was built, which soften the transition from the old city to the 19th century neoclassical expansion of wide streets and gardens, the greatest examples of which are seen in the Park of La Florida, and the Andre Maria Zuriaren Enparantza/Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, with its façade pulled viewpoints.
Finally, the new quarters of Vitoria-Gasteiz were built, in accordance with a development plan favouring parks, recreation areas and quality of life. While aiming to maintain the identity of the city, and drawing on the district of San Martín, the need to accommodate the growing population has led the city to concentrate its growth in the new neighbourhoods of Lakua, Salburua and Zabalgan. The city of Vitoria-Gasteiz has received several international awards for its urban development. Also worth mentioning is the green ring, a network of parks and green spaces around the city, destined to be the lung of the future Vitoria-Gasteiz, and link the city with the countryside. This ring is formed of the parks Salburua, Zabalgana, Armentia, Alegria river, Gamarra, Abetxuko and Atxa-Landaberde.Deportivo Alavés, football team playing in the Segunda División in 2015–16, where they finished first, gaining promotion to La Liga for the 2016-17 season. Home matches are played in the Mendizorrotza Stadium.
Baskonia, basketball team playing in the top professional Spanish basketball division Liga Endesa and in the top professional European basketball division Turkish Airlines EuroLeague in 2015–16, where they finished four in the two competitions. Home matches are played in the Fernando Buesa Arena.
Iñigo Calderón, football player currently playing for Anorthosis Famagusta FC (Football League Championship, England).
Almudena Cid, rhythmic gymnast now retired, eight-time national champion; participated in four Olympic finals at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, also took part in 9 world championships and 12 European championships.
Lorena Guréndez, rhythmic gymnast, olympic champion with the Spanish group at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and two times world champion.
Estíbaliz Martínez, rhythmic gymnast, olympic champion with the Spanish group at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and two times world champion.
Tania Lamarca, rhythmic gymnast, olympic champion with the Spanish group at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and two times world champion.
Vitoria-Gasteiz held the title of European Green Capital in 2012 due to the high proportion of green public areas, ensuring that the entire population lives within 300 m2 of an open green space, its biodiversity and ecosystems services, as well as for the city's green policies.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is twinned with:Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros (1896–1966), aviator
Ramiro de Maeztu (1875–1936), political theorist and journalist
Lourdes Oñederra (*1958), Basque linguist, professor and writer