The Eixample, Core of Modernism
At the beginning of the 19th century the people of Barcelona were claiming for the demolition of the old city walls. Ciutat Vella had become too cramped and insalubrious long ago and the economic and demographic growth due to industrialism made it mandatory for the city to expand. Finally in 1854 the walls were knocked down and the city expanded in the new Eixample, which soon became the ground for the development of a new architectural style: the characteristic Catalan art nouveau, the Modernism.
The Eixample, or Enlargement, which occupies the area immediately north of Plaça Catalunya was designed in 1859 by the engineer Ildefons Cerdá to accommodate the city's growing population. The layout is a grid of repetitive square blocks with beveled corners. Cerdá's proyect planned a limited height to the buildings, and each block contained a garden in its center. His intention was to create an egalitarian city, in which all residents would have equal access to social services, markets and green space. Obviously Cerda’s plan wasn’t entirely followed due to unregulated growth and speculation. Even so, the area remains a fascinating example urban utopian design and some of the original intention can be still be experienced by a walking tour: The Passatge Permanyer at carrer Diputació, between Pau Clarís and Roger de Llúria is the finest remaining example of Cerdá’s proyect, the street is lined with low storied post-romantic houses with their front gardens still intact. Another good example of the original plan is the interior garden at the Torre de les Aigües, at carrer Roger de Llúria, 56, through the tunnel.
The Eixample is divided in two: the right of the Eixample –what we see on a map on the right of Balmes street and the left of the Eixample, on the left of Balmes. The origin of this parting is the fact that the Sarria railway used to run along this street, now it is underground. The most representative buildings of Modernism are on the right of the Eixample. To visit this area properly requires time as the distances are greater that in Ciutat Vella.
Walking around the Eixample reveals a wealth of architecture: we can admire the fantasy and gracefullnes of Modernism in facades, galleries, entrance halls ...This wealth is the result of the move made by the middle-class residents from the old city to the central Eixample, around 1900. The best Modernist buildings are in the area round the Paseo de Gracia, That's why the area is called the Quadrat d'Or (the Golden Square). In Paseo de Gracia even the pavement is ornamental: Hexagonal tiles decorated with organic serpentine shapes by Gaudí.
In Paseo de Gracia 35-43 there is one block which contains some of the most famous modernist houses in the city. Seen together, they produce a dramatic contrasting visual effect. All of them were reforms of existing structures carried out by the most important architects of the time. Each one has its own style and is designed by a different architect.
* Casa Lleó Morera: 1906 - by Lluís Doménech i Muntaner. The inside can be visited. Gorgeous mosaics and stainedglass.
* Casa Bonet, today the Museum of Perfume.
* Casa Amatller - 1900 - by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, inspired in gothic and Dutch architecture
* Casa Batlló - 1906 - by Antonio Gaudí, a dream made of glazed tiles. See the inner patio.
Still in Paseo de Gracia, but close to the junction with Diagonal avenue is the Casa Milá or La Pedrera, 1910, by Gaudí, to us the best building by Gaudí. It was built for the Milá family. You can visit the Espai Gaudí: an exhibition in the attic and roof of the building which provides a overview of the life and work of the architect through drawings, photos, models and audiovisual material. The roof itself is magnificent, and offers excellent views of the surrounding city.
Near la Pedrera, at Paseo de Gracia 96, is the houseware design shop Vinçon, in what once was the house of the Modernist painter Ramón Casas. Vinçon is a point of reference in Spain for design innovation and creation. The place is worth a visit.
Once we get to the Diagonal, the stretch from the Metro Verdaguer to the plaça de Francesc Maciá is the most interesting terms of architecture. Highlights include the Casa de les Punxes, Diagonal 416, with its six towers ending in needle like structures, by Puig i Cadafalch in 1905. Just in front and by the same architect is the the Palau Baró Quadras, today Casa Asia, an institution that organizes interesting exhibitions and activities about the asian continent.
La Rambla de Catalunya is a nice promenade edged with maple trees, and where many cafés and restaurants have terraces. It is also a shopping area, mainly for clothes and accessories. The Egyptian Museum at Rambla de Catalunya 57, is the best Egyptian Art private collection in Spain, and in the street Consell de Cent you may visit some of the main art galleries in the city.
The Fundació Antoni Tàpies at Carrer de Aragó, 255 by Lluís Doménech i Muntaner, is together with casa Vicens by Gaudí considered to represent the beginning of Catalan modernism. The building was originally a printing house. The sculpture Núvol i cadira (Cloud and chair) sits on the facade of this museum which contains works representative of most of his creative periods.
In this area there are some other interesting Modernist houses: Casa Juncadella, at Rambla de Catalunya 33, Casa Boada, at Enric Granados 106, Casa Garriga Nogués, at Diputació 250 y Casa Serra, by Puig i Cadafalch, at Rambla Catalunya corner Diagonal, remodeled and fitted out for the public administration. Still on the right of the Eixample is the Casa Calvet, at Casp 48, one of Gaudi's first buildings, and the Casa Thomas, Mallorca 293, by Domenech i Muntaner, with the shop BD Ediciones de Diseño, another design institution.
In Passeig de Sant Joan, is the Casa Macaya, by Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
The Cathedral Sagrada Familia by Gaudí is still not finished. Started in 1882, it is Gaudí's most emblematic work, through which he hoped to explain symbolically the mysteries of faith. The construction continues today following the designs of Gaudí. It can be visited and if you are fit you can climb up the organic ornamented spires and enjoy the views from upthere.
Walking up the Avinguda Gaudí, you get to the Hospital de Sant Pau, another masterpiece by Domènech i Muntaner, still today on active service. It takes up several blocks and it consists of independent modernist pavillions and gardens. It has been declared by the UNESCO a world heritage, and Woody Allen chose it as a location in the film he shoot in Barcelona.
On the left of the Eixample is the old Barcelona University at plaça Universitat, and in the Escorxador park sticks out the giant glazed ceramic sculpture by Miró: Woman and bird.
The Diagonal avenue, as its name implies, cuts across the Eixample diagonally, linking the uptown neightbourhoods of Pedralbes and Sarriá, with the coast and more popular districts. Going up Diagonal past the Francesc Maciá square, we get to a new commercial and finance area in the city (L'Illa shopping mall, Reina Maria Cristina square) and further up the Diagonal, to the western way out of the city. Taking Diagonal in the opposite direction we get to the sea and the installations for the Forum Barcelona 2004; having gone past the plaça de les Glories, a roads hub where Diagonal, La Meridiana and Gran Vía get together, and also where the second hand market Els Encants, the Auditorium, the National theater of Catalunya and the new Agbar Tower by Jean Nouvel are located. The innovation and technology district 22@ is also in the area, it is a venture of Barcelona City Council conceived for the transformation of the old industrial area of Poblenou into an innovation and technology urban infrastructure.