Barcelona’s Barrio del Eixample is home to the gems of Catalan Modernism, including La Pedrera and Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí. Urbanized in the nineteenth century by Ildefonso Cerdà, Barrio del Eixample is a great place to live and to visit—bourgeois Barcelona in its purest form.
Plan your stay in Barrio del Eixample
You can really experience Barcelona daily life in Barrio del Eixample. The most important things to see include the many buildings and spaces by Antoni Gaudí such as Sagrada Familia and Parque Güell. Eixample is in a really good location considering Las Ramblas, el Raval, and Barrio Gótico are all within walking distance depending on where you choose to stay.
The Eixample, built outside the walls of the medieval city, in the area of the Barcelona plain, was rationally urbanised from the last quarter of the 19th century onwards. A military and orchard area until then, in the 19th century it became a frequent transit point between the old medieval city and the industrial town of Gràcia. This favoured its urbanisation and it was later occupied by the high bourgeoisie. They would compete in the construction of their residential buildings. This famous neighbourhood stretches from Plaça Catalunya towards the mountains and its backbone is the passeig de Gràcia.
History of El Eixample
The history of El Eixample begins in 1854, when the government authorized the demolition of the wall. In 1859 a competition was held for the development of this area, which was won by Rovira i Trias. However, at the same time, the Central Government commissioned another urban planning project from Ildefonso Cerdà, which was approved in 1860.
That centralist interference was not liked in the city, although it was a better project and would be the one that would finally be carried out. Cerdà proposed the distribution of the city based on an extensive ideal grid of 60 blocks and 20 perpendicular islands. The perimeter of the old city would also be integrated into this plan.
Following the ideas of utopian socialism, he established a rational and egalitarian distribution of services, with a social centre every four blocks, a market every twelve, etc. Moreover, the houses did not have to be more than three floors high, nor did they have to be very deep. The aim was to improve the quality of life of the residents.
However, only two thirds of the original idea was realized. His idea of an apple (square island with the corners cut at a 45º angle) was finally taken up on all sides and not on the two that he had initially planned, combining the rest with a garden area.
Image of Casa Serra, ca. 1930-1932
The intrusion of Modernism
This totally new urban planning idea was joined by a true explosion of modernism in architecture, led by the radical proposals of Antonio Gaudí, who preluded a brilliant generation of architects, master builders and craftsmen.
The right side of the Eixample was in fact the bourgeoisie’s quarter. It introduced its own style into its houses, a reflection of the moment. However, the rest of the quarters (such as Fort Pienc, the Sagrada Família, Sant Antoni and the left side of the Eixample) were also influenced by this trend. The whole of the Eixample therefore constitutes a unique modernist architectural ensemble in Europe.
When you visit Eixample, you can start in Plaça Catalunya. From it, you can reach the Passeig de Gracia; which divides the Eixample in 2 parts: the right (dreta) and the left (esquerra).
Walking along the Passeig de Gracia, you will discover Pere Falqués’ streetlights with white mosaic, buildings with elaborate decorations, the beautiful sky, and Mount Tibidabo in the distance. If you look down, you will discover the intricate tiled pavement designed by Gaudí for the company Escofet. Enjoy the architectural jewels that coexist with Barcelona’s prestigious shops.
The first part of Passeig de Gracia is dominated by neo-Gothic architecture, a historical reference to an ancient time of great socioeconomic importance. For instance, this area is home to the neo-gothic architecture of Casa Pons y Pascual (1891) and Casa Rocanova (1917).
If you turn right on the first street of Passeig de Gracia (Carrer del Casp), you will reach the first building designed by Gaudí in Eixample, Casa Calvet. Winner of the Best House of the Year Award for 1899-1900, Casa Calvet is considered one of Gaudí’s more conservative works. However, it already has strong modernist elements. For example, the curved façade or the attic balconies, which look like authentic fairytale creations.
If you cross Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and then turn right on Diputació Street, you will reach the oldest part of Eixample. In fact, the corner of Diputació with Consell de Cent, Roger de Llúria and Pau Claris constitutes the first entirely built grid, already in 1864. Here you can stop in Passatge Permanyer, and enjoy the lovely space with modernist decoration.
Paseo de Gracia views
Manzana de la Discordia is an absolute must-see. Modernist, exuberant Casa Lleó Morera (1906) by Lluís Domènech i Montaner is located on this stretch of 113 meters. Then, there is Casa Amatller(1900) by Josep Pui i Cadafalch. This building, which now houses the Institut Amatller d’Art Hispanic, is a Gothic house with Catalan and flemish elements, enhanced with ceramic tiles.
Casa Amatller shares a dividing wall with Gaudí’s Casa Batllo (1906). Casa Batllo, by Antonio Gaudí, is filled with color and fantasy. On the first floor, a large balcony made of sandstone lets you see the elegant noble floor. However, on the other floors there are balconies in the shape of masks. At the top, a flaky ceramic skin and a tower headed by a four-armed cross. It could remind us of the legend of Sant Jordi and the dragon.
You also must visit Fundación Antoni Tàpies. Along with Gaudi’s Casa Vicens, this work by Domènech i Montaner is considered the starting point of Catalan modernism.
A little bit further down the path, at the corner of Provença is Casa Milá, known as La Pedrera. The building, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, was designed by Gaudí in 1905 and built between 1906 and 1912 as a family residence and rental aprtments. It consists of two blocks of flats to be seen in the Eixample. They are intercommunicated by interior courtyards with an attractive façade, which facilitate the distribution, lighting and ventilation and with a common façade. In La Pedrera it is especially worth seeing the flat on the fourth floor, decorated according to the modernist aesthetic.
Casa Milá, known as La Pedrera, 1906-1912. Antonio Gaudí
From here, you can continue along the streets of Eixample or head to Sagrada Familia. In front of the modern cathedral, you’ll see Avenida Gaudí, which leads to Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (1912), designed by Domènech i Montaner. This hospital was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It was built in brick and designed as a mosaic of gardens and pavilions. It has an underground corridor that connects the facilities and facilitates emergency traffic. At the main door, the brick building topped by a tower and an iron clock acts as the centre’s reception area. It is here and in the ten pavilions that surround it that Domènech i Montaner and modernist sculptors such as Pablo Gargallo and Eusebio Arnau executed beautiful sculptures and mosaics.
Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau
At the end of Eixample, you will reach Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, which highlights Torre Agbar, the controversial architecture by Jean Nouvel because of the futuristic obelisk. After you cross Roselló Street and reach the Diagonal, you will arrive at Casa Terrades or Casa de les Punxes (Casa de las Puntas, 1905), Puig i Cadafalch’s magnificent neo-Gothic construction. It resembles a gothic castle with four cone-shaped towers. Its brick façade is composed of wrought iron balconies and ceramic panels with stained glass and patriotic symbols of Catalonia.
On the other side of the Diagonal, you will reach Palau Baró de Quadras (1904), current headquarters of Casa Asia. It is also the work of Puig i Cadafalch and was inspired by Barcelona’s Gothic palaces. The façade is filled with medieval and Renaissance sculptures. At the corner of the Diagonal with Rambla de Catalunya is Casa Serra (1908), another building by Puig i Cadafalch.
When you reach Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, turn left on the next block to see the historic building of the University of Barcelona, medieval construction from the seventies of the nineteenth century. We recommend viewing the cloisters of Letters and Sciences. The arcades are filled with plants, trees, and fountains, as if they were Romanesque cloisters. You will find the same sort of peacefulness in the back gardens, great hall, auditorium, and library.
If you have enough time, you should visit the Museum of Catalan Modernism, with over 350 works by the artists most representative of Catalan Modernism including Josep Llimona, Joaquim Mir, and Puig i Cadafalch.