Modern Barcelona was born in Eixample, a neighborhood designed in the 19th century by the engineer and urban planner Ildefons Cerdà.
City within the city, Eixample is undoubtedly the most original district of Barcelona, but also one of the most pleasant to live in. Cerdà wanted to design an open, egalitarian and green city, where all public services were distributed uniformly.
The Eixample was built during the years of industrialization in Catalonia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is the consecration and the engine of contemporary Catalonia, breaking with the medieval past. The central (oldest) part, the Right of Eixample, was the district of the Catalan bourgeoisie which introduced a new style, Catalan Modernism.
The Eixample is today the center and the architectural symbol of Barcelona. A neighborhood where buying opportunities have never been greater.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD EIXAMPLE
The word “eixample” comes from the Spanish “ensanche”, which should have translated “eixamplada” or “eixamplament” in Catalan. In English, it would be enlargement or extension or enlargement,… and not as example as many believe.
BARCELONA, IN THE 19TH CENTURY, WAS A HEALTH HAZARD FOR ITS POPULATION
Due to industrialization, the city’s population had increased from 104,000 (1798) to 187,000 (1850). But the city was confined within the same walls as in 1714. And occupied only an area of 2 square km (the current “Gotico”). Barcelona (93,000 inhabitants per km2) then had three times the population density of Paris (31,000 inhabitants per km2).
There was no potable water or sewage network, the groundwater was polluted. The yellow fever of 1821 and two epidemics of cholera (1834, 1854) had killed more than 10% of the population, especially in the lower classes. Infant mortality was very high and health and hygiene conditions were very poor. Life expectancy did not exceed 36 years for the rich and 23 years for the poor, as in medieval times!
A PROJECT IMPOSED BY MADRID!
In 1841, Barcelona launched a public tender for an urbanization plan. The first projects were rejected by the Madrid government. Finally, in 1859, the central government approved the Cerdà Plan, named after its designer, Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876). Barcelona, refusing the decision of Madrid, organized a competition between the most famous architects of Catalonia. Antoni Rovira i Trias had won by proposing a radioconcentric city map. The central government of Isabelle II persists, however, in considering her plan to be much more modern and open. It imposed, not without difficulties, the Eixample de Cerdà project on the Barcelonians.
THE CERDÀ PLAN
Cerdà had an ambitious plan: it was to transform the Barcelona of 1850
… In a city ten times larger:
Cerdà focuses on basic needs. Above all, the need for natural lighting (sunlight), ventilation in homes (it is strongly influenced by the hygienic movement), green spaces near the population with 100,000 trees planned (ecologist before the it was popular), proper treatment of waste, an efficient sewage system and the possibility of seamless movement of people, goods, energy and information.
This project is based on a homogeneous serial repetition of residential blocks. They are large and square (113.3 meters by 113.3 meters) with the characteristic of 45 degree corners. The fabric of the city is therefore at right angles. The beveling of the islands allows the creation of plots at each street angle and this was also designed to facilitate turns for the “mobile steam engines” that Cerdà imagined. The islets are called the “manzanas”.
The engineer designed his plan around a major avenue that served as its main axis: the Gran Via de las Corts Catalanes. He worked with “districts” made up of 10 × 10 islets whose intersections corresponded to the main intersections of the city: plaça des Glòries Catalanes, Tétouan square, University square. A wider street was arranged every 5 streets. These are Marina Street, Urgell Street, and Via Laietana completed 50 years later. These proportions – consequences of the width of the islets – enabled him to create wide streets that descended from the mountain to the sea on each side of the city: Urgell Street and Passeig de Sant Joan. These were separated by 15 islets.
A networked city
Most of the streets are 20 meters wide, but the main streets are 30 or even 50 meters wide. Only a few major axes cross the city without respecting the orthogonal grid, but always in a straight line. These are Avenue Diagonal, Avenue Meridiana and Avenue Parallel.
His creations show a conception of the concept of network very advanced for its time. Its checkerboard street plans, with its identical square blocks of habitat, are designed to facilitate the movement of pedestrians, cars, horse-drawn trams, urban rail networks (which are an innovation for the era), the gas network, sewers large enough to prevent any flooding, without neglecting public and private gardens, as well as other key equipment.
The latest technical innovations are integrated, provided that they contribute to better urban functioning. But it also uses its own innovative concepts. Such as a logical system of leveling of the ground essential to the good realization of his project. Cerdà went beyond the partial visions that “utopian cities”, “cultural cities”, “monumental cities”, “rationalist cities”, etc. represented to him, to devote themselves to the search for an “integral city”
A PLAN AMENDED BY SPECULATION
Cerdà’s Barcelona plans undergo two main revisions. The second version, approved by the Spanish government at the time, is that of the current Eixample.
Cerdá was a forerunner of ecological architecture. His General Theory of Urbanization began with “let’s ruralize what’s urban, let’s urbanize what’s rural”. He had planned large open green spaces, allowing the passage of pedestrians and light: the square blocks with beveled angles were initially only to be built on two sides, with only 5,000 m2 out of the 12,500 m2 of block built. But to resolve the speculative land pressures, the political leaders modify the initial plan, to lead to a construction of the four sides to 28 meters in height and 28 meters in depth, so that the initial garden imagined by Cerdà is reduced to an interior courtyard square and closed!
And only one of the two diagonal avenues is built, today’s Avenue Diagonal .
Cerdà wanted Eixample to be a place of social mix. But it is the wealthy classes who will live there. Many Catalan architects of the time fought against Cerdà’s ideas. But they still end up designing the flagship buildings of Catalan modernism. Antoni Gaudí will carry out a large part of his works there, notably the Sagrada Família, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. But we can also cite the Casa Amatller and the casa de les Punxes by Josep Puig i Cadafalch or the Casa Lleó Morera and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Cerdà has faced many problems, including the lack of funding and the opposition of a large part of the population of Barcelona. He was never paid for his masterpiece and died ruined in 1876.
Ildefons Cerdà has transformed a death trap into one of the most beautiful modern cities in Europe.
The writer Víctor Balaguer i Cirera was commissioned in 1864 to design the nomenclature of streets in the Eixample. It uses the names of the territories of the Crown of Aragon: Arago (Aragon), València (Valencia), Mallorca (Mallorca), Rosselló (Roussillon), Còrsega (Corsica), Sardenya (Sardinia), Sicília (Sicily), Nàpols ( Naples)…. But also Catalan institutions (Les Corts Catalanes, the Diputació, the Consell de Cent) or personalities (Pau Claris, Roger de Llúria, Roger de Flor…).
THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF EIXAMPLE
Today, the 270,000 inhabitants of Eixample are spread over 6 districts and 350 manzanas (islets or blocks) over 7.5 km2:
the Dreta de l’Eixample,
- the Right of the Eixample: Dreta de l’Eixample
- the Old Left of the Eixample: Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample
- the New Left of the Eixample: Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample
- Fort Pienc
- the Sagrada Familia
- San Antonio
The Right of the Eixample
La Dreta de l’Eixample (the right part of Eixample) is the area of the city where the Cerdà’s project started. It was the natural extension of Barcelona beyond the walls demolished in the middle of the 19th century.
The Cerdà Plan was approved in 1859 and a year later, Queen Isabel II laid the foundation stone for what was to become one of the wealthiest areas of Barcelona. The first group of houses was built at the intersection of Calle du Consell de Cent and Calle Roger de Llúria. La Dreta de l’Eixample first housed some important industries, such as the Elizalde factory, one of the first in Spain to make cars.
Over time, it gradually became the district where the bourgeois residences were located. Especially at the time of the artistic explosion of Modernism represented by such remarkable buildings as La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Casa Ametller.
In addition to residences, economic activity had moved there: shops, offices, corporate headquarters, cinemas, theaters, etc., especially in the most central area (between Llúria and Balmes) and around the axis of Passeig de Gràcia, which followed the old road which linked the fortified town to the municipality of Gràcia. This avenue is still, today, the heart of the economic and commercial dynamism of the city.
Note that the Plaza de Catalunya was not included in the Cerdà Plan. This “oversight” has been corrected by force of facts: its privileged position between the old town and the new Eixample has made it the natural nerve center of the town; the passage of time has only strengthened it.
Today, the Right of Example, in its western part, is the most chic district of Barcelona, one that brings together the most beautiful Catalan modernist buildings, the most beautiful shops and the best cafes and restaurants.
The Old Left of the Eixample
La Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample (the old left part of Eixample) includes the urbanized and populated part of the old Left of Eixample district from the end of the 19th century.
The opening of the Hospital Clínic and the Faculty of Medicine in 1906, of the Marché du Ninot in 1935, and the burial of the railways made it possible to promote the district and to attract, especially from the 1930s, property developers interested in the construction of residential housing intended mainly for the middle classes.
In its more recent history, we must highlight the complete renovation of Enric Granados Street, which has revived the commercial and restoration fabric of the area.
Today, the Old Left of Eixample brings together multiple commercial, service and catering activities. But it is also a place of culture with the University of Barcelona, and of health with the Hospital Clinic, one of the four largest hospital services in Spain. Their presence makes it the most sought after area in Eixample today.
The New Left of the Eixample
The New Left of the Eixample, apart from the three large buildings of Can Batlló (today the Industrial School), the Modelo (the old prison) and the Escorxador (today the Joan Miró Park), did not start to develop until the 1930s. The presence of the Batlló railway and factory made it impossible to create an urban environment before the closure of the factory in 1910.
It was mainly made up of groups of scattered huts, occupied by people who came to work for the 1929 International Exhibition. It was an almost rural habitat, which remained in certain areas until the post-war period.
It was not until 1972-1973 that the railways were buried. And some of the buildings in the neighborhood were demolished to build Avenue Diagonal.
Fort Pienc was born as a fortification area. When Felipe V established the city surveillance system, he built the Citadel and an advanced fort. Both were demolished in 1869.
The Estacion del Norte (Gare du Nord) has given personality to a neighborhood located between the railway and Gran Via. Many carriers were then located around an ancient exit route from the city from Roman times until the development of the Eixample.
After the station closed in the last quarter of the 20th century, the face of the neighborhood changed. The old train station has become the city’s main bus station. A large urban park has been built nearby and, on the other side, a large set of facilities (kindergartens, supervised apartments for the elderly, markets, libraries, etc.) which has become the benchmark for a new model of integration of facilities and public spaces in order to bring life closer to neighborhoods.
There are also very important cultural points, such as L’Auditori and the National Theater of Catalonia.
The Sagrada Familia
To the north of the right of the Eixample, in the upper part, is the Sagrada Família district, formerly known as El Poblet (the small village). In the 19th century, el Poblet was a district made up of fields and a few houses. It was not until the early years of the 20th century that the neighborhood became urbanized, as a working-class neighborhood around many industries.
What gives it personality today is the Basilica of the Sagrada Família. The project started in 1881 with the acquisition of land in the district of Sant Martí, in the middle of the fields. The project was first entrusted to the architect Francesc de Paula Villar. Then it was continued in 1883 by a young architect of 31 years, then little known, by the name of Antonio Gaudí. He took charge of the work while the construction of the neo-Gothic style crypt was just beginning. Today, the Sagrada Famila is Gaudí’s most famous work. It is the most visited monument in Spain, the sixth in Europe, and the twelfth in the world.
Gaudí Avenue crosses the neighborhood and connects the Sagrada Família to another major work of Catalan modernism: the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Both buildings are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
The Sagrada Família district includes, at its southern end, the Encants district, with the popular Bellcaire market or Encants market. This area will be completely transformed in the near future by urban redevelopment around Place des Glòries.
The name of this district has its origin in the convent near the wall of Barcelona. When Rovira i Trias built the Sant Antoni market in the period 1872-1882, there were practically no dwellings. It was the working-class market in Raval. Little by little, this market and the stalls around it grew like a big fair. They gave personality and life to the neighborhood that developed around it. This popular trade tradition is still strong today. And the recent rehabilitation and renovation of the historic market building has further accentuated it.
The features of the district is the result of the reforms linked to the International Exhibition of 1929, which led to its urbanization and the development of accesses to Montjuïc, with the elimination of the slums between Avenues Parallel and Gran Via and the development of Avenue de Mistral. This old medieval exit route from the city is now a pedestrian route that brings together the life of the neighborhood.
It is one of the most important commercial and catering areas in Barcelona.
AND ALSO THE MINI-EIXAMPLE OF VALENCIA AND LYON!
In the 19th century, the Cerdà Plan served as an example for other city extensions in Spain and Western Europe. This is particularly the case of Valence in Spain and the extension of Lyon to the east of the Rhône in France.
THE EXAMPLE OF TOMORROW?
We are betting that the ecological approach of the original project of the visionary urban planner Cerdà will be restored in the near future. But with green spaces no longer inside buildings but in the streets.
Neighborhood associations in Eixample are already campaigning to ban traffic on certain streets and transform them into living leisure or green spaces. Why not imagine giving these spaces the vocation that Cerdà had intended for them in its initial project? Between each block, more than 2,000 m2 of land can be recovered from the space reserved for cars!
THE EIXAMPLE REAL ESTATE MARKET TODAY
Eixample has 143,000 homes according to the population census. It is the most important building stock of the ten districts of Barcelona.
The annual property market for sale concerns around 1% of Eixample’s housing stock: 1,460 homes over the last 12 months for an average price of € 4,740 / m2.
After the 2007 property crisis, prices fell in Eixample to € 3,160 / m2 in July 2013. Then they rose moderately until October 2016 (€ 3,990 / m2). And in a very accentuated manner until June 2017 (€ 4,930 / m2, or + 24% in 8 months!) When the referendum was announced on October 1, 2017, prices have been stable,… or even sharply down at the end of the year (€ 4,680 / m2). This is certainly due to the violent events that took place in the Eixample in October 2019. This is a sign that we can negotiate the prices down today in Eixample, so take advantage!
By district, it is obviously the most chic district which is the most expensive (source: Idealista).
- Right of Eixample: € 5,540 / m2 in November 2019 (-5.5% over one year)
- The Old Left of Eixample: € 5,290 / m2 in November 2019 (+ 6.7% over one year)
- The New Left of Eixample: 4,700 € / m2 in November 2019 (-1.5% over one year)
- Fort Pienc: € 4,250 / m2 in November 2019 (-2.3% over one year)
- Sagrada Família: € 4,190 / m2 in November 2019 (-0.8% over one year)
- Sant Antoni: € 4,410 / m2 in November 2019 (-3.0% over one year)
Our favorite: the Sagrada Familia which is, in our opinion, an under appreciated neighborhood with quality property. A good investment both in main residence and in rentals. And frankly a 5 minutes walk from one of the greatest architectural wonders of the world at this price, it is given!
DISCOVER THE EIXAMPLE WITH US
We know Eixample and Barcelona perfectly well. We can find the real estate nugget you are looking for: the bourgeois apartment of 180 m2 with high ceilings, or the loft (top floor) with terrace of your dreams.
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© buyinghomespain.com – January 2020 – Eixample, the birth of modernist Barcelona
With more than 20 years of experience in real estate acquisition procedures in Spain, we are at your disposal to assist you with all the necessary steps from the search for a property to services offered after the acquisition. When you are buying a home in Spain we help with organizing the visits of properties, the legal verification of the properties, the obtaining of a mortgage, the administrative procedures and the signature of the different notarized documents.
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