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Flag of CataloniaBarcelona - 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 in Barcelona.

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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