For many of the residents of Barcelona, L’Eixample,or, literally, The Enlargement, is Barcelona at its best; and it’s easy to understand why.
When Barcelona was looking to expand beyond the old city, in the second half of the 19th century, the architect Ildefons Cerdà designed what was then a completely unique concept of urban planning, based around a grid system of wide steets, with plazas at many of the cut-off corners. The main street of the area, Passeig de Gràcia, which goes all the way down to the northern tip of Plaça Catalunya, is a delightful avenue with many fine examples of the modernist buildings which characterise Eixample.
For example, the Block of Discord, about halfway down the avenue, has three stunningly different houses, designed by three of Barcelona’s most influential architects. One of these, needless to say, is Antoni Gaudí, and the building in question is one of his greatest triumphs, Casa Batlló, with its George and the Dragon roof.
Almost as stunning is Casa Lleo Morera – the house of the lions and mulberry trees – a wonderful Art Nouveau creation of Lluís Domènech, who has many other highly original designs in the area. One of Domènech’s most fascinating designs is the 1915 building Casa Fuster, which is now a 5-star hotel.
The third of the great architects responsible for many of the buildings in Eixample was Josep Puig i Cadafalch – look out especially for Casa de les Punxes, sometimes referred to in guidebooks as Casa Terrades. This looks nothing more nor less than a fairy tale castle – and in any other city but Barcelona would look completely incongruous. Here, however, it just adds to the particular atmosphere of this completely unique city.
The one building which not only exemplifies Eixample but also Barcelona itself is, naturally, La Sagrada Familia, in the north east of the district. It should go completely without saying that no visit to the city would really be complete without a walk around this incredible tribute to Gaudí’s individual perspective of the world.
There is more to Eixample than just architecture, however. For those looking for retail therapy, then the wide, straight streets here will give you plenty of opportunity to indulge yourselves. Most of Spain’s best-known stores can be found here, along with a range of top quality shops and restaurants. This is where you’ll find your Gucci, Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani and, of course, the ubiquitous Zara. If you want culture of a very different kind, then there is the Museu de la Musica, in another Puig building (Palau del Baró de Quadras) on Avinguda Diagonal, along with a number of classy art galleries.
It’s only too easy to get carried away with the idea that Barcelona is a city of the narrow, twisting lanes of the Gothic Quarter and then Las Ramblas and the Nou Camp. Eixample, though, is every bit as sophisticated an area as you’ll see in any other major European city – and has the benefit of some wonderful architecture to be amazed by.