- El ensanche
El ensanche is the name given to the large, central area of
the city that is formed by a square of streets crossing perpendicularly.
Up until the 19C, the
people of Barcelona lived all crowded together in the old town that was itself
surrounded by city walls. When these were knocked down in 1859, the city was
able to spread out across the plain following the plan layed out by Ildefons
Cerda, who proposed a large district in the manner of a city garden. Between
1870 and 1936 this plan was brought to fruition although the idea of gardens
between the houses and the Utopian plan for a city without any class distinction
were dropped. The result was a somewhat cold and monotonous square area with
obvious social differences between its different districts. However, the grandeur
of the buildings and the uniformity of this square area conveyed an important
step in social equality, and the Modernist style, both imaginative and irrational,
in which most of the houses were constructed, gave a note of colour and distinction
to the sameness of the city. The central part of El Ensanche, around the Passeig
de Grácia, was occupied by the Bourgeoisie who had solid and luxurious
Modernist buildings constructed, whereas the middle and working classes occupied
the adjacent areas side by side.
The area situated to the left of Balmes street (along which passed the Sarria
railway) was named "Izquierda" (Left-handed side) del Ensanche; the
central part, between Balmes street ad the Passeig de Sant Joan became known
as "Derecha· (right hand side) del Ensanche, and was the part occupied
by the Bourgeoisie. The area situated even further to the right was given various
names including districts of La Sagrada Familia, Glories, etc.
The "Derecha del Ensanche" is separated from the old town by the
Plaça de Catalunya and the Ronda de Sant Pere. This square, which is
about the same size as St. Peter's square in Rome, has been altered on several
occasions, the last time being in 1986. In the middle there is an open area,
usually full of children and pigeons. This is surrounded by tree-filled gardens
containing statues by such famous sculptors as Gargallo and Clará. The
periphery is made up of large buildings including a branch of the popular department
store "El Corte Ingles", the Telephone Exchange and several banks
eg. Banco de España, Bilbao, Central, etc. The large amount of banks
found here have made this square, along with the lower part of the Passeig
de Gracia and adjacent streets, become known as Barcelona´s main business
area. It is here that the big service companies, airlines, tourist agencies
and large firms have their main offices, as well as the most important businesses
and shops. The square also contains some street-side cafés thanks to
the wide pavements. One example is "Zurich" - a bar frequented by
young people and tourists. Opposite this bar is the entrance to the Sarria
railway as well as curious underground shopping arcade called the Avinguda
de la Luz. The Ronda de Sant Pere connects the old quarter of the textile manufacturers
with the lower area of El Ensanche, where we find the offices of the large
Catalan textile companies.
The main avenue in the area of the "Derecha del Ensanche" is the
Passeig de Gracia, a wide boulevard with plane trees and unusual Modernist
seats with street lamps, and where there are luxury shops and street-side cafes
with awnings. In the 19C this avenue was surrounded by large gardens and buildings
for recreation. Running parallel to the Passeig de Gracia is the Rambla de
Catalunya on one side and the streets of Pau Claris, Roger de Lluria, Bruc
and Girona on the other. The whole area contains the largest number of Modernist
buildings in the city. Numbers 2 to 4 of the Passeig de Gracia are Modernist
houses attributed to the architect E. Sagnier in 1890, and number 6 to 14 were
the work of B. Bassegeda in 1918. Passing along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes
(one of the widest and largest thoroughfares in Barcelona) and continuing,
on the right-hand side, along Diputació street, we come to Pau Claris
street where the beautiful Passatge Permanyer opens out into a block. On the
other side of this alleyway, which, incidently dates from 1864, is Roger de
Lluira street with its fine Modernist houses and important shops. Reaching
Arago street one can see the Gothic Church of La Concepció with its
magnificent cloister. This church was brought brick by brick from the old town.
The Market of La Concepció (1888) with its interesting structure of
iron and glass can also be seen. Both buildings served the spiritual and material
needs of the Bourgeoisie of the time. Going up Bruc street we find, at number
110, the Municipal School of Music, the work of the architect Falguera in 1928.
Quite near here, at number 302 Valencia street, is the Casa Elizalde, an important
film centre in El Ensanche which has exhibitions about Modernism and other
themes relating to the area.
A little higher up, at the junction between Mallorca and Roger de Lluria streets,
is the heart of Modernism. This is not only apparent in the Casa Montaner (1889),
the work of Domenech i Montaner who was one of the great architects of the
time, or in the Casades palace, dating from the end of the 19C and seat of
the Bar Association, but also all the houses in the area. We suggest you take
a look at all the façades with their ornamentation and balconies, and
go into their entrances to see their wall paintings, lamps and sculptures as
well as their strange lifts and beautiful staircases. Better still would be
having the chance to visit any of the private houses which conserve, with their
original structure, the decoration and furniture from between seventy and one
hundred years ago. One important example is the Casa Thomas (1898) at 291,
Mallorca street. This was also the work of Domenech i Montaner and one may
get to see its interior thanks to the fact that the furniture design company
BD is located on the ground floor.
We have now reached the Diagonal (the other great avenue of Barcelona, so
named because it crosses El Ensanche diagonally). From number 416 to 420 we
can see the Casa de les Punxes, the work of Puig i Cadafalch (another of the
main Modernist architects) in 1905 which has a medieval appearance. At number
373 of the same avenue there is another work by the same architect. This is
the Casa Quadras where there is the very attractive Music Museum and where
one can see the inside of another Modernist house. After the Diagonal, at 318
Córsega street is the Casa Comalat, yet another of the jewels of Modernism
and the work of the architect Valeri. At the junction between the Diagonal
and the Passeig de Gracia is the Plaça del Cinc d´Oros as well
as the Robert Palace.
Going down the Passeig de Gracia we can find some interesting buildings eg.
the one at number 112, the work of Sagnier; number 113 by Falques; number 96
by Rovira i Rabassa (this, in fact, belonged to the Modernist painter Ramon
Casas) and, a little further down, the restaurant called "La Punyalada" which
was a meeting place for Modernist artists and those from subsequent periods.
At number 82 stands one of the most famous buildings in Barcelona: the Casa
Milá, which is known locally as "La Pedrera" (1906-1909).
This was the work of the famous architect Antoni Gaudi and it caused such a
stir in its day that it was thought to have been built by the devil himself
or at least by a madman. For many people it is the most important representation
of Modernism of all, and it is one of the most important architectural buildings
of the 20C in the whole world.
The block a little further down on the right-hand side is popularly named
the "Manzana de la Discordia" (lit: "Apple of discord" but
also a play on words since "manzana" also means block). This was
due to the reputation of its architects. Its main buildings are, at number
43, the beautiful Casa Batllo by Gaudi; at number 41, the Casa Amatller by
Puig i Cadafalch (with the Institut d´Art Amatller); tow houses by Sagnier
at number 37 and 39; and, lastly, the Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech i Montaner
at number 35.
These houses were all built at the end of the 19C and at the beginning of
the 20C. It could be said that this block is the quintessence of Catalan Modernism.
From here one can pay a visit to the Rambla de Catalunya which is a more intimate
kind of avenue thanks to its size and its lime trees. Here, too, we can find
some Modernist houses e.g. at number 77 where there is the attractive Bolos
Chemist. The section of Consell de Cent street between the Rambla de Catalunya
and Balmes street contains numerous art galleries. Throughout this area there
are shopping centres (eg. The Vulevar Rosa) and highly prestigious shops, as
well as the city's main cinemas. When the good weather begins the street-side
cafés in the Rambla de Catalunya become one of the most popular places
The "Izquierda del Ensanche", which is no less interesting from
an architectural point of view, is the area where many large public buildings
are located. Examples include the University, built in the 1860´s by
Elies Rogent, the Clinical Hospital by Domenech i Estapa, the Main Fire Station,
the Council Seminary, the Prison (known as "La Modelo"), the Les
Arenes Bullring, and the site of the Abattoir that was changed a few years
ago into a square known as the Plaça de l´Escorxador (Abattoir)
with its gardens, recreational area and the statue of Joan Miró.
Lastly, in the district of La Sagrada Familia, we find the great Temple of
La Sagrada Familia. The crypt was begun by Villar in 1882 and was completed
by Gaudi when he took over construction in 1891. From that moment right up
to his death in 1926, Gaudi built the Neogothic apse and planned this ambitious
temple. He only saw the completion of one of the three façades with
belltowers. That was the one representing the Nativity. In the 1950´s
the façade representing the Passion was constructed, and, at the present
time, they are trying to complete the temple with the façade to the
Glory - largest of the three - and also put a roof over the structure. After
visiting this monument, which stands at the junction of the streets of Marina
and Provença, we recommend going along the Avinguda Gaudi as far as
the Hospital of Sant Pau. This was the work of Lluis Domenech i Montaner and
has a large number of sections.
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