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See How This Artist Built an Intricate Model of His Hometown Over 100 Hours

Basque in the glow of Bilbao, this National Geographic illustrator’s Spanish birthplace.

Fernando G. Baptista, senior graphics editor and artist for National Geographic Magazine, tells us what he loves about Bilbao, his hometown, as he creates a model of himself painting the small Spanish city.

Most people born in my hometown of Bilbao, Spain never leave. In my family, I’m the only “weird” one who decided to go work in the United States. For locals, this Basque city nestled between mountains and threaded by the Nervión River is very special.

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Fernando G. Baptista, an award-winning National Geographic senior graphics editor, spent 100 hours handmaking this 20-inch-tall model.

My childhood memories are of a place linked to iron exportation and ship building. Today the former industrial zone is the revitalized heart of the city, thanks to the opening of the Guggenheim Museum 21 years ago. The medieval past can be found in the Casco Viejo neighborhood, where pedestrians stroll the narrow alleys, shop at the boutiques, and have some pintxos (the Basque name for tapas) or the typical Bilbao treat called La Carolina. When I was studying at the university, I spent hours at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum gazing at all the paintings.

An evening walk along the Paseo Campo de Volantín provides another great view: the Guggenheim lit up and reflected in the river. It looks like a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie. Bridges are a big part of Bilbao, from historic ones like the San Antón to the modern Santiago Calatrava-designed Zubizuri with its glass walkway. One of the city's most emblematic structures, the Tiger building also holds special meaning for me because my grandfather worked on its construction in 1940. Residents always compare Bilbao to a small town, as it’s common to run into friends and family on walks around the city. It’s what makes me feel at home.

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