When in Rome, they march up the steps of the Colosseum. Ditto for China and the Great Wall. A trip to Greece would be incomplete without a shuffle through the Parthenon. The same would be said about India and the Taj Mahal. No one would dream of going to Sydney without a gawk at that great seashell of an opera house. Yes, travelers always seek out buildings and structures that serve as icons for the city and the culture.
But six and a half years ago, a glimmering and fantastical structure of titanium whimsy opened its doors in northern Spain and catapulted architecture and tourism into a new and different realm. Designed by California-based architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao attracted three times the expected number of tourists its first year (some 1.3 million), earned accolades such as "the great building of the 20th century" and "the travel destination of the 21st century," and plucked a gritty industrial city out of obscurity and into the annals of architectural wanderlust. People began to want to travel to Bilbao just to see the building itself - not for the art inside - and the thought of including a structure in your travels became not a dusty, crumbly aside, but a spanking new catalyst. Thanks to the burning desire sparked by Bilbao, magazines like Condé Nast Traveler even dubbed architecture "the new aphrodisiac."