Vizcaya has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic, as attested by the archaeological remains and cave paintings found in its many caves. The Roman presence had little impact in the region and the Basque language and traditions have survived to this day.
Biscay itself appears in the Middle Ages, as a dependency of the kingdom of Pampelune (XI cent.) that became autonomous and finally a part of the Crown of Castile.
In the modern age, the province became a major commercial and industrial area. Its prime harbour of Bilbao soon became the main Castilian gateway to Europe. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the abundance of prime quality iron ore and the lack of feudal castes because of the local laborers standing up for their rights , favored rapid industrialization.
The capital of the province is Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country in northern Spain and the capital of the province of Biscay (Basque: Bizkaia). The city has 354,145 inhabitants (2006) and is the most financially and industrially active part of Greater Bilbao, the zone in which almost half of the Basque Country’s population lives. Greater Bilbao’s 950,155 inhabitants are spread along the length of the Nervión River, whose banks are home also to numerous business and factories, which during the industrial revolution brought heightened prosperity to the region.
Bilbao was founded as a village by Don Diego Lopez de Haro V, Lord of Biscay, on 15 June 1300 on the opposite river bank of an existing fishing settlement (now known as Bilbao la Vieja or Bilbo Zarra, "Old Bilbao").
Prior to formal establishment as a township, a village and port called "Bilbao" (the name designated in the founding village charter of 1300) is believed to have been located near an ancient wall (circa XII century) recently discovered by the "San Anton" Bridge. Other evidence suggests that first settlements in Bilbao came earlier near the "Malmasin" promontory.
The name of the city has unclear origins, some think it may come from "bel vado", ancient Spanish for "good river crossing" while others proclaim it stems from Basque "bi albo" meaning "two river banks".
Nearby places like Sestao and Ugao-Miraballes have the same ending that could be Basque aho, "mouth".