The Eixample District
The story on how the word “Urbanization” came to be.
It is not all that surprising when tourists often find themselves enjoying their Barcelona city tour within the Eixample district – oftentimes without them even knowing that they are in a special district within the city or why they enjoy it so much. Could it be the buildings, the shops, the people or the awe-inspiring monumental structures? Perhaps it’s a healthy combination of it all, in what is considered to be great urban planning… Prepare to visit the heart of Barcelona city from home on this virtual tour of the iconic hallmark of the metropolis: The Eixample District.
It was the 1850s and the industrial revolution had taken its toll on the highly populated city of Barcelona. With a population of 187,000 within the confinement of medieval walls built by earlier Roman colonies, the sanitary conditions of living suffered greatly and took down the life expectancy of residents to a staggering 36 years for the upper class and a measly 23 years for the working class. Epidemics were hard hitting as they would wipe out a good number of the population throughout the years. Buildings were being constructed at random, cramming the population into narrow spaces, obstructing light from entering residences, constricting proper air circulation and creating horse-cart traffic problems. By the mid-1850s, all the suffocating people of Barcelona were demanding the demolition of the walls and a reconstruction of their entire city.
In 1855 the province’s council conducted a public competition, along with the intervention of the Spanish government from Madrid, for local architects to demonstrate a newly structured plan for the city – a solution for the catastrophic state the area was left in by means of expansion: Enter Ildefons Cerdà’s Eixample proposal.
Cerdà, now considered a legendary figure of urban planning (and even the initiator of the word “urbanization”), designed the Eixample (Catalan for “expansion”) with farsightedness that remains to be considered progressive even by today’s standards. His grid-like design of the district stretched beyond the old walls and merged the old city with the small surrounding towns such as Sants, Gràcia, Sant Andreu. Cerdà had a fascination with straight lines and that was a prominent feature in the overall symmetry and geometry of his final product – how we know and see Barcelona today (mostly from a top view on a plane). Taking into consideration traffic (even before the introduction of cars and steamed engines), sunlight, air circulation, hospitals, parks, plazas and the wellbeing of pedestrians and artisanal street workers – all while creating a utopian plan that cohabited the different social classes with no division. Both the rich and the poor lived in modern buildings that formed square or octagonal blocks (known as Manzanas), coining Permanyer’s “Cerdà’s liberation plan for everyone”. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Cerdà’s work finally received the praise it deserved – after the revelation of the new Barcelona’s reaped benefits (even noticed through the works of local artists). Thus dubbing the city “an urban success story”.
Now that we’re well acquainted with the history of the place, let’s dive straight into the good stuff with a tour-from-home across the most iconic places and monumental structures of the Eixample district! Famous for its modern architecture, art galleries and high end shops; the district is known to be one of the most comfortable areas to stay in Barcelona – offering safe and easy-to-maneuver spaces with the best restaurant, shopping, bar and city walking experiences.
The district is officially divided into six different neighborhoods, but generally cut into two main divisions by the Passeig de Gràcia: Esquerra de l'Eixample (left side of Eixample) and Dreta de l'Eixample (right side of Eixample). The right side starts in Plaça de Catalunya and links the old medieval Barcelona with the new city built around the Passeig de Gràcia. The latter is the center of the Eixample known for its “Quadrat d’Or” or golden square which protects more than 150 historically preserved buildings and is the symbol of utmost elegance in the area.
Diagonal Avenue and Passeig de Gràcia are two of the Eixample’s long straight-lined streets that offer a variety of shopping experiences that’ll surely satisfy the soul of every shopping-enthusiast out there. Offering the finest fashion stores the world has to offer – from Chanel to Tiffany’s, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Stella McCartney, MaxMara and many other independent boutiques. The Nova Esquerra is also a diverse arena shopping center known for its beautiful design. Get ready to shop until you drop!
On the subject of beautiful designs… Barcelona is known for its stunning architecture and captivating designs, and we sure wouldn’t dare talking about that without bringing up the city’s most famous architect: Antoni Gaudí.
Gaudí’s world-renowned works still stand tall and mighty within the Eixample district, and most notably is La Sagrada Família, the large (and yet unfinished) Roman Catholic church that stretches high up in the heart of the city’s sky. Known for its lush design and striking display, this monumental structure is known to be a major tourist attraction that will sure leave you speechless with its every detail.
Another Gaudí masterpiece within the district has to be Casa Milà (La Pedrera) or “the stone quarry”, a modernist building known for being the last residence designed by the well-known architect. This structure appeals most to those interested in architecture and design, as it displays iconic work of civic architecture for its constructional and functional innovations.
Casa Batlló is a third construction of Gaudí’s greatest works. A masterpiece of modern and expressionist architecture known to be a highly rated cultural and tourist attraction with more than one million visitors annually. It is, in fact, a remodeled old residential building that is now considered a modernist museum. The structure is locally named Casa dels ossos (meaning house of bones) because of its skeletal organic quality.
Almost all of Gaudí’s works are added to the UNESCO World Heritage sites as they display modernist work at its finest and never cease to amaze every person experiencing them up close. Even if you do not wish to access the interior, do not pass on a day touring of the magnificent site if you’re ever in the area.
Other must-see masterpieces within the district include Cadafalch’s Casa de les Punxes, the Fort Pienc (Arc de Triomf) and the Mercat de Sant Antoni (a hidden gem of the city that includes a market, cinemas, bars and restaurants).
The Eixample houses many museums of diverse contents, amongst the most famous are Museu del Modernisme, Museu de la Musica, Fundacio Antoni Tapies (famous for its striking barbed wire exterior) and the Museo Egipci de Barcelona. Make sure to include at least the ones listed here in your next Barcelona city day tour.
The district is also known for a wide array of world-cuisine restaurants, as well as a selection of bars and nightlife venues. An unofficial neighborhood of the district for the past 20 years, called the Gaixample, is a zone that attracts gay tourism with LGBTQIA+ bars, nightclubs, shops and hotels.
The district maintains a healthy mix of traditional and multicultural elements, shaping the experience of visiting the Eixample into a unique and essential one.
Our tour on this blogpost may have come to an end, but you better believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface of what it truly feels like to roam the Eixample area. So what are you waiting for? Sunny and modern Barcelona awaits you! Next time you find yourself planning a family getaway, make sure to book a Barcelona family tour and rent out an electric vehicle for a good drive across Barcelona – and more specifically: The Eixample District.
By: Jad Abou Akar - Copywriter @ The Barcelonian