The Eixample | Barcelona Bus Turístic

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The Eixample

A unique urban development plan forms the skeleton of modern Barcelona

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A large district made up of octagonal blocks with chamfered corners concentrates many of the city’s most architecturally valuable buildings. Conceived by the engineer and town planner Ildefons Cerdà, the Eixample is the result of the bourgeois splendour enjoyed by the Barcelona of the second half of the 19th century and the desire to dispense with the city's medieval past to become a modern metropolis.

Why visit the Eixample district?

It is virtually impossible to visit Barcelona without setting foot in the Eixample district as it forms the backbone of the city we know today.

Population growth and deteriorating sanitary conditions within the walled enclosure made it necessary to formulate an urban expansion plan. The city council held a public competition to design the layout of the 1,100 hectares of land between the town of Gràcia and the Old Town and even though the winner was Antoni Rovira i Trias with a circular structure that grew outwards in a radial manner, Spain’s central government decreed that the plan put forward by Ildefons Cerdà should be implemented.

The Cerdà Plan adopted a grid structure in which every block had 45-degree chamfers to create better visibility. The magic of the Cerdà Plan lay in the creation of an egalitarian city in which public services would be uniformly distributed and the emphasis would be on residential buildings. Cerdà’s urban design did not have a centre, took full advantage of the direction of the wind to facilitate oxygenation and atmospheric renewal, and assigned a key role to parks and gardens within the blocks. A follower of the hygienist movements, Cerdà sought to especially protect the private living spaces and accordingly designed apartment buildings arranged around a large internal courtyard through which every residence would receive sunlight, natural light and ventilation.

In addition to hygienist aspects, the plan proposed by Cerdà was also ahead of its time in terms of mobility. The width of the streets it defined was absolutely unheard of, ranging from 20 to 60 metres, partly with a view to escaping the inhuman density of the city, but also with a motorised future in mind, which is why all buildings located at crossroads were chamfered. Cerdà also took into account the future growth of the city, designing his grid of octagonal blocks with interior gardens in such a way that it could be reproduced as many times as necessary.

Barcelona’s city walls started to be demolished in 1854 and in 1860 Queen Isabella II laid the first stone in the Eixample expansion project, but it was not until almost a century later that the Cerdà Plan was fully implemented. During this time the original design has undergone changes to satisfy the interests of the owners of the land and to keep pace with the growth of the population. Notwithstanding the modifications, today Ildefons Cerdà’s grid is known the world over as one of Barcelona’s best-known features and the foundation of many of the most important monuments built during the golden age of Modernisme, such as the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló.

 

How do you get to the Eixample?

The Casa Batlló – Fundació Antoni Tàpies stop on the Red Route and on the Blue Route of Barcelona Bus Turístic is in the heart of the district!

 

For the most curious of you

  • Did you know? Many people opposed the central government’s approval of Ildefons Cerdà’s plan. The main criticism of the plan was that it was too egalitarian, given that citizens would share the same space without taking class into account. Some critics were angry that the competition had been won by a socialist, a follower of the utopian ideas of Saint-Simon and Cabet.
  • Local’s tip: One of the best ways of discovering the urban layout of the Eixample is to view it from the roof terrace of one of the area’s many hotels. Only from such a height can you see how perfect the design is!
  • A must: To understand why Barcelona has such a characteristic layout.