Basilica of Santa Maria

“...facer iglesia para enterramiento e para oir misa e las otras cosas que han menester...”


When María Díaz de Haro “Lady of Biscay” founded the town in 1322, she told the people of Portugalete to find the most appropriate site to build a church in honour of the Virgin Mary, “ a church for burial and for hearing mass and for whatever may be necessary...” The highest spot in the town was chosen, and a small masonry temple with a timber roof was built, of which only the “Andra Mari” remains today.

It is inside the basilica on the main altar piece. It is a sculpture from the 15th century, a true document of mediaeval spirituality. Its construction dates from the end of the 15th century and took almost a century to build. It can consequently be considered of the Gothic style although there is a clear Renaissance influence, especially in the façades. It is built of sandstone masonry, and of particular interest are its flying buttresses, gargoyles, façades and bell tower, built later, between 1691 and 1741.

The side façade, the oldest, is known as the Portal de la Ribera, and has suffered the erosive action of northeast winds. The name of the church’s master stonemason, Garita, is inscribed in the centre of the entrance arch. The main façade is sheltered by the bell tower, and its niche holds an image of Mary, similar to the already mentioned Gothic sculpture.

Inside, worthy of particular mention is the main altarpiece in the Renaissance style, presiding the altar. It is made of walnut wood and only the central panel is polychromed. This altarpiece, together with the Adoration of the Wise Men, is classified as a monument of cultural interest. On either side of the main altar piece are two interesting examples of Gothic-Flemish painting: the triptych and the painting of the Coronation of the Our Lady, popularly known as the La Virgen de la Pera.

On the side aisles, there are several chapels belonging to the town’s most important families, such as the Salazar, Ugarte or Coscojales families. Worthy of mention here are the image of the Cristo del Portal, a Gothic sculpture from the end of the 15th century, the grill in St. James Chapel from 1569, one of the oldest in Biscay, and the organ located in the choir, from 1903, by the French company Henry Didier, which is still played today.

The Basilica also houses a sacred art museum, where examples of silverwork, church garments, a choir book from the 17th century and a pulpit sounding board from the 19th century are on display.

Basilica Opening Hours:

  • From June 15rd to September 15st.
  • Monday-Saturday, from 10:30 a.m to 13:15 p.m and from 16:30 p.m to 20:00 p.m
  • Sunday, from 10:30 a.m to 13:15 p.m


Campo de la Iglesia Viewpoint

Leave the church and walk towards the next viewpoint which has an interpretation table. The marvellous views of the estuary make it extremely popular. It is the ideal place to take photographs with the Transporter Bridge in the background.

“La Canilla” promenade, with its former railway station, now the tourism information office, the towns of Sestao, Getxo and even Mount Oiz when the sky is clear, are some of the places that can be seen from this spot.

  • Basílica Santa María