It was the middle of the 19th century and Barcelona couldn’t breathe. The city got so big and so crowded and the people got so sick that the Queen in Madrid finally gave them permission to tear down the city’s walls. And so the Eixample (Catalan for “extension”) district was born. We spent a week in Barcelona last Fall and reserved one day for a walk through the Eixample (pronounced “eshampla”). Here’s the story of what we saw:
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As usual, we followed Rick Steve’s advice in his Pocket Barcelona and, as usual, we started a Rick Steves walk at the Placa de Catalunya. And our walk started at the main street running north-south through the Eixample, the Passeig de Gracia. Before the wall was torn down this was just an old country road to the tiny village of Gracia a few miles away. Now it’s a stately street lined with plane trees and it cuts the Eixample in half. The first part of our walk was to the East of Passeig de Gracia.
The job of laying out the city’s Eixample was given to a civil engineer and urban planner named Ildefons Cerda. Cerda designed a grid of 520 blocks, each street the same width, each block the same size. Corners were cut off at a 45 degree angle to make it easier for steam trams to make their turns. The grid was at an angle to allow afternoon sun in the winter, shadows in the summer. Each block was to remain open on one or two sides to allow ventilation and green space. There was to be a courtyard in the middle of every block. Buildings were limited to 16 meters in height to allow sunlight for all. But soon developers ignored the rules and closed all four sides of the blocks and raised the heights of the buildings. And the courtyards in most of the blocks today have turned into parking lots.
We only stayed on Passeig de Gracia for two blocks. Then we turned right on Carrer de la Diputacio. After one block we turned left onto Carrer de Pau Claris. Steves told us to go halfway up the block and then turn right and walk through a gated passage called Passatge Permanyer but it was locked. So we turned right at the end of the block and found our way to the other side of the passage.
We then crossed the street and entered a passage that took us to the block’s central courtyard which is called Water Tower Garden (Jardins de Torre de les Aigues).
Then we continued up Carrer Roger de Lluria past the Eixample Hotel to La Concepcio church at Carrer d’Arago.
After visiting La Concepcio the church we walked down Carrer d’Arrago one block to find La Concepcio Market.
We exited the market at Carrer de Valencia and turned left, passing a number of flower stands and the Centre Cultural La Casa Elizalde, an institution that offers courses in philosophy and history as well as painting and dancing.
We continued down Carrer de Valencia for another block and then turned left on Carrer de Pau Claris for one block, which brought us back to Carrer d’Arago. We then turned right for one block which brought us back to Passeig de Gracia and the end of Part One of our Walk.
We walked a total of 12 blocks and passed a couple of restaurants, a church, a market, and a school. We also got to explore a central courtyard that contained a water tower, a garden and a wading pool. This is more or less what Ildefons Cerda had in mind when he laid out his grid: a self-sufficient community in each neighborhood of 20 or so blocks. He also envisioned a sewer system that was implemented a few years after his death. It’s too bad that his ideas for allowing open space and sunlight and ventilation for his 520 blocks were not followed on most of those blocks.
In Part Two of our walk we will be returning to Passeig de Gracia and even walk along La Rambla de Catalunya one block West for awhile. We’ll cover this portion of our walk in my next posting.