< SPAIN | BILBAO: Hotel Carlton
Located on Plaza Federico Moyúa, the hub where the city’s main shopping and business streets meet, the Hotel Carlton has been an emblematic building and Bilbao’s most palatial hotel since its inauguration in 1926. It was designed in 1919 by the Basque-English architect Manuel María Smith Ibarra in the French Second Empire style, keeping the tradition of grandiose hotels of the time. With a triangular shape and tapered corners, the impressive building was complete in 1926, and Smith Ibarra saw the completion of his first project in the hotel industry. This met Bilbao’s long-standing and pressing need of a grand, luxury hotel to match other neighbouring capitals.
The main façade and the side of the building evince details clearly belonging to the ‘beaux arts’ style, characterised by symmetry, large entrances, staircases, multi-coloured with a
profusion of balustrades, supporting cornices and bas-relief panels. Among these, the roofs and mansards are its most beautiful examples.
But in the interior on all its 6 floors where the work boasts that splendour which has made it so famous. It was the first hotel in Spain to have en suite bathrooms. In fact, one of its first advertising slogans was “Hotel Carlton 200 rooms, 200 bathrooms”. The Basque-English architect designed a large space, a central hall, covered by a beautiful leaded glass roof to let a welcoming light filter in. The glass roof has always been the symbol of the Hotel Carlton and now, after a respectful renovation, it continues to represent the hotel’s classic style.
Architectural values of the Carlton led the Basque Government to list it as an architectural, historical and cultural monument in 1995. This recognition served to reinforce the prominence of the Hotel Carlton in the City of Bilbao.
The Hotel Carlton has witnessed key social and cultural events in the contemporary history of the Basque Country. Its rooms have accommodated celebrities such as Federico García Lorca, Albert Einstein and King Alfonso XIII.
During the Spanish Civil War, it was the seat of the Basque Government and there are reminders of this in two locations in the hotel. The first is one of the halls, the Salón Luis García Campos. It was the centre of debates and operations of the Basque Government in 1936, when José Antonio Aguirre was president. As a curiosity, the hall preserves the only stained glass window that was saved from the ravages of the war, as well as the presidential table and two chairs.
The other place are the stairs of the main entrance of the hotel from the Plaza Moyúa, where one can see the vents that still remain from what was where the Cabinet took refuge. This bunker was refurbished and turned into a private hall.
The Hotel Carlton’s oval hall, known as the Salón La Cristalera, is covered with the great leaded glass dome. The dome glass was especially brought from Boston and in 2007, it was restored by the same company that originally made it. The dome of the Hotel Carlton is one of two largest domes in Spain.
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