Barcelona’s Modernista Extension
The Eixample is Barcelona’s District II and, after Ciutat Vella, is the part of the city you are most likely to visit if you are coming to the Catalan capital on holiday.
The area is known as El Ensanche in Spanish and the name means Extension or Enlargement because it was here that the expansion of Barcelona took place after the medieval city walls were demolished in the 1850s.
The district fans out and up the hill from Plaça de Catalunya and has traditionally been divided into Dreta and Esquerra or Right and Left with Carrer Balmes being the dividing line betwwen the two.
The Dreta neighbourhoods comprise of La Dreta de l’Eixample, Sagrada Familia and Fort Pienc whilst L’Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample, La Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample and Sant Antoni make up the Esquerra.
As a general rule, the closer you are to Plaça de Catalunya and the main axis of Passeig de Gràcia, the older the buildings and the more likely you are to find the Modernista constructions for which the district is so famous.
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Dreta de l’Eixample
The Dreta de l’Eixample runs directly up the hill from Plaça de Catalunya and is where most of Barcelona’s Modernista buildings are to be found.
La Dreta’s two main streets are Rambla de Catalunya and Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s prime shopping street and home to Gaudí’s La Pedrera as well as La Manzana de la la Discordia, where you’ll find buildings by the three great Modernista architects – Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch.
However, my favourite area is the Barri de la Concepció, which is centred on the church and covered market of the same name and is located up the the hill from Carrer Aragó until you reach Avinguda Diagonal roughly between Carrers Roger de Llúria and Girona.
This area is known as the Quadrat d’Or – the Golden Square – because of the number and quality of its Modernista buildings and was to where the monied classes moved at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The area is still very desirable but is also a lively neighbourhood with excellent restaurants, bars and hotels, and if at all possible, you should visit for the first weekend in June when the barri celebrates its Festa Major also known as the Fira Modernista de Barcelona.
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Sagrada Familia is a lively neighbourhood a little further out of the city centre, which is most famous for Antoni Gaudí’s famous expiatory temple of the same name.
A century ago, the area was still mainly farmland centred on the old village of El Poblet located between the city of Barcelona and Sant Martí dels Provençals.
Located just above Avinguda Diagonal, the barri is well-connected by some of Barcelona’s main streets, such as Carrers Aragó, Mallorca and Còrsega but its main street is the lovely Avinguda Gaudí, which cuts diagonally through the Eixample’s grid system.
This lovely semi-pedestrianised street is full of bars, restaurants and café terraces and connects Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia with another Modernista masterpiece – the Hospital de Sant Pau by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in neighbouring El Guinardó.
In the part of the barri closest to Plaça de les Glòries, you will find Barcelona’s celebrated bric-a-brac and flea market Els Encants, which is currently on the point of moving to a covered location.
Sagrada Familia is a great place to visit, an even better place to live and is also a reasonable choice if you are looking for holiday relatively close to the city centre.
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Also the on border of the Dreta de l’Eixample with Sant Martí, Fort Pienc is separated from Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella by the Parc de la Ciutadella.
Just like the park, which was formerly a citadel from where Castilian troops controlled the rebellious Barcelonans, Fort Pienc was once a Spanish military fortification, which was demolished in the 1860s as the expansion of Barcelona got under way.
There are some very nice old buildings in the neighbourhood as the original urbanisation plan envisaged nearby Plaça de les Glòries as Barcelona city centre.
However, the area’s real focus has always been Estació del Nord, initially a major railway station and now Barcelona’s main bus and coach station.
Although home to the magnificent old Monumental bull ring as well as the modern Teatre Nacional de Catalunya and the Auditori concert hall, the neighbourhood has little of interest for the tourist.
Nor is there very much on offer in terms of hotels and hostels but given the proximity of Fort Pienc to the parks and the city centre this would be an excellent location for a holiday apartment rental.
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Forming a triangular wedge between El Raval, Montjuïc and the rest of the Eixample, as far as I am concerned, Sant Antoni is one of the most attractive neighbourhoods in the centre of Barcelona.
The original neighbourhood was located just outside one of the main gates in the city walls and was centred on the church of Sant Antoni.
Today, the focus is the lovely Mercat de Sant Antoni, which was completed in 1882 and is not only one of Barcelona’s finest food markets but is also home to an excellent antique and book collectors’ fair on Sunday mornings.
I really like this part of town and there are many excellent places to drink and eat particularly around the pedestrianised Avinguda Mistral, the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare.
The area close to Paral.lel is also very pleasant and combines the avenue’s sometimes risqué nightlife with the sensation of being at the foot of Montjuïc.
If you are looking for reasonably priced hotel or hostel accommodation close to Barcelona city centre, Sant Antoni is a really excellent choice.
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Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample
Along with the Dreta de l’Eixample and Sant Antoni, the Antiga Esquerra is the most central of the Eixample neighbourhoods and extends from the the other side of Carrer Balmes to Comte d’Urgell.
Built by Elies Rogent in the 1860s, the neighbourhood’s most iconic building is the main University of Barcelona building, in many respects a precursor to the architectural style that would become Modernisme.
The area next to the university and Plaça de la Universitat along Gran Via also dates back to the late 19th century and you’ll find some fine old buildings around here.
Since the 1980s, this part of the neighbourhood has become a gay centre known as the Gaixample so you’ll see rainbow flags outside shops and businesses and its bars, restaurants and clubs are full of life particularly after dark.
Further up the hill, you come to another centre of activity around Hospìtal Clinic and the Mercat del Ninot.
Although tourist sights are not in abundance, the whole Antiga Esquerra neighbourhood is full of bars and restaurants and its proximity to both the Dreta de l’Eixample and Ciutat Vella make the Antiga Esquerra an excellent place to look for accommodation.
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Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample
Of the neighbourhoods mentioned so far, the Nova Esquerra is not only the furthest from the city centre but also the area that gives least sense of being a barri and it exists for administrative purposes more than anything else.
As a place to live it is divided by the rather ugly Avinguda de Roma and I always have the sense that it is somewhere you pass through on your way from the Eixample to Sants or Hospitalet.
However, the area round the Escola Industrial is very convenient for Les Corts and the area round the Parc de Joan Miró and the old Arenas bull ring, now a shopping centre, is perfect for Plaça d’Espanya and the Fira de Barcelona conference area leading up to Montjuïc.
The neighbourhood actually does contain one of my favourite Modernista buildings – Casa Golferichs by Joan Rubió i Bellver – and Joan Miró’s Dona i Ocell sculpture is now one of the most iconic symbols of Barcelona.
You’ll find plenty of decent bars and restaurants in the upmarket area close to Avinguda Josep Tarradellas and at the Plaça d’Espanya end of Gran Via.
The latter is also an excellent place to look for accommodation for business people visiting Barcelona for conferences, exhibitions or events at the nearby Fira.
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Eixample District OAC
For those of you living in the Eixample, the Oficina d’Atenció Ciutadana or Citizen’s Help Centre, where you need to get official paperwork, such as the empadronament, done is located at:
Oficina d’Atenció Ciutadana del Districte de l’Eixample
Carrer Aragó, 328
Dreta de l’Eixample
Telephone from Inside Barcelona Metropolitan Area: 010
Telphone from Outside Barcelona: 807 117 700
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