During the 12th and 13th Centuries, Bilbao and Bermeo figured as the two most important comercial ports, giving rise to a rivalry which lasted for centuries. Before the foundation of the Villa, Bilbao had already gained an important economic status, based upon its being the main distribution point of Castillian products bound for the North sea and vice versa. This position as commercial crossroads was decisive in the foundation of the Villa of Bilbao with its own authorities, by-laws (those of Logroño) and municipal charter, thus offering a series of privileges for those who came to live within its walls. Bilbao owned exclusive rights over all navigational and commercial activity in the estuary. Upon this strong basis, institucions and commercial activity flourished alike. Exploiting the raw material to be found in the hearts of the mountains which suround Bilbao, they wrought iron – as both Shakespeare and Tirso de Molina, among others, mentioned. As had always been the tradition, they cut timber from the forest of oak, beech and chestnut, and built boats in which they sailed the seas in search of new business and new commerce.

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