The word Eixample in Catalan) or Ensanche in Spanish means literally
“the extension”. The Spanish verb “ensanchar” means to “broaden or
widen.” So this district and area of Barcelona takes it’s name from its
purpose – to extend the city of Barcelona.
This area of Barcelona was created as an extension of the old city of
Barcelona to keep pace with the changes that the industrial revolution
was starting to bring. By the mid 19th century a fast growing and
increasingly wealthy middle class of Barcelona demanded new, modern and
grand residences with more space and better living conditions.
The Eixample is one of the first attempts at urban planning in the
world. In 1855 the Ajuntament (Council) of Barcelona authorized the
demolition of the medieval city walls of the old Barcelona city and in
1859 they held a competition for projects for a big expansion of the
• The engineer
Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876) designed the Extension Plan of Barcelona in
1859 as a grid with blocks and straight lines. It is perhaps
paradoxical Gaudi and Cerda are the two Catalans who have symbolized
modern day Barcelona more than any others. Gaudi hated straight lines
and Cerda loved them.
Cerda’s love of straight lines shows in his design of a 1300 hectar
grid system of blocks of buildings also called 'manzanas'
measuring 113 x 113 m and covering 14% of the total municipal area at
Ajuntament (council) of Barcelona didn’t much like the Cerda plan
because it more of less left the old city centre the way it was. So
they initially picked a plan by Antoni Rovira i Trias. The winning
plans had long straight avenues leading out from Plaça Catalunya in a
radial fan-like shape. For reasons still unknown orders came from
Madrid, after the winner had been picked, that the plan that would be
used would be that of lldefons Cerdà.
Before the Eixample was devised the modern areas of Sants, Sarrià,
Gràcia and Sant Andreu were still independent villages and not part of
Barcelona. The street Passeig de Gracia got it name because this was
the road from the still walled city of Barcelona to the town of
ensure maximum quality of life and avoid the overcrowding and
congestion of the crampled living conditions of the old city of
Barcelona, Cerdas original plan had strict building controls to ensure
sunshine, light and gardens in each block. Only in a very few blocks in
the modern day Eixample are in accordance with his original plans, but
so gardens still exists and many blocks still have large courtyard
patios in the middle which provide natural light.
• A feature of Cerdà's plan that thankfully has survived are the 45º diagonally cut corners
of each block called “chaflanes”. This idea was not only to bring
light and space between the blocks, but also to give the steam trams
room to make their long turns.
The Eixample consists of a “left and right” area called Eixample
Esquerre, which is the area left of the Passeig de Gracia and Eixample
Dret, the right side of Passeig de Gràcia. The right side is generally
considered to be posher!
The wonderful avenue of Passeig de Gràcia is the main avenue and where
the most expensive and luxurious residential and commercial properties
can be found. This is where La Pedrera (Casa Mila), Casa Battlo can be
• In the days
before the lift was invented the lower level flats were the most
prestigious and the largest and most luxurious flats were found on what
is still called the Principal floor, which is the first above the
ground floor. Many of this high ceiled luxury flats for the building
owners featured viewing galleries with high glass windows on the
principal floor An example of this can be seen at Casa Battlo by
Gaudi. The top floors of buildings were hardest to get to without
lifts and were used to servants quarters.
The Eixample is also the cradle of Catalan modernism. This is where
great Catalan architects competed to build fabulous Modernist
structures like the Sagrada Famila, the Sant Pau hospital, Casa
Amatller, Casa Mila and La Pedrera
The Passeig de Gràcia is also home to the block called “Mançana de la
Discòrdia” which means “The block of disagreement.” This is due to
three houses in a single block that were designed by prominent
Modernist architects but in very different styles. The three famous
Modernist houses are Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch , Casa
Morera by Domènech i Montaner and Casa Batlló by Gaudí.
The popular Rambla de Catalunya which runs parallel to Passeig de
Gracia was built over a former river called “la Riera d'en Malla” which
was covered over. It used to run all the way to the sea where the La
Rambla also is located in the Cuitat Vella