The Collections of the Library and the Archive were created in the second half of the 19th century, when Mr Francisco de Zabálburu collected high-quality antique books assessed by a team of experts, such as José Sancho Rayón, librarian of the Spanish Department of Development at that time, Alphonse Guépin, the abbot of Silos and member of the Spanish Royal Academy of History, and his successor, the historian Luciano Serrano.

He acquired the whole collection by purchasing from individuals, antiquarian booksellers or at auctions in Spain and particularly France. They classified each of the books with strict scientific rigour in descriptive sheets, creating the files that are still preserved.

They also installed and distributed the 10,000 books in the Room and the cabinets prepared for such purpose. The Archive is half of that which was created by the House of Altamira through history and by joining several Spanish noble houses.

Engraving by F. de Madrazo

Francisco de Zabálburu y Basabe

Born in Bilbao on 6 July 1826, he studied Law at the Central University of Madrid and the Sorbonne. He was a member of Commissions for the construction of the new railways, a Director of the Spanish Mortgage Bank, a Member of the Parliament and Senate for Murcia; he usually travelled around Italy and particularly France, where he acquired European habits that were outstanding at that time, together with financial companies. He married Pilar de Mazarredo y Tamarit and had a daughter, Carmen.

He was drawn by Federico de Madrazo when he was young and by Joaquín Sorolla a few years before his death on 2 January 1897. A great scholar, he published in 16 volumes of the CODOIN (Spanish Collection of Unpublished Documents for Spanish History), he spoke French and Basque and also knew English, Italian and Portuguese. He wrote in a very proper way and was very familiar with Spanish classic authors. He was very fond of theatre and music, and sponsored artists, painters, musicians and writers. He died on 2 January 1897 in Madrid and was buried in the church of San Francisco in Bilbao, the construction of which he had paid years before together with the rest of the so-called Expansion of said city.