The Eixample and Modernisme

Fourteenth-century and which the municipal authorities still use today for meetings of special relevance. The Placa de Sant Jaume, flanked by the seats of these two institutions, is the scene of many kinds of demonstrations and gatherings: from fervent manifestations of patriotism to the celebration of sporting victories by local teams, organized dancing of sardanes – the typical Catalan folk dance -and the building of castles, or human towers. Conditions for traffic, salubrity, and, above all, population density. This plan completely revolutionized the standards of the day; and now, in the 21st century, is still viable.

The Eixample is a striking example of Catalan seny, an idiom meaning good sense or judgment, often applied to the Catalan people and their philosophy of life. The Modernisme movement appropriately undertook the decoration of this new creation utilizing the use of stone, ceramics, wrought iron, and stained glass, thus combining Seny with Rauxa, the exuberant and ebullient contrasting facet of the Catalan character.

On paper, the Eixample forms a gridded web of right-angled quadrangles, interrupted only by the principal thoroughfares: the stately Passeig de Gracia ( where, at the beginning of the 20th century, the city’s inhabitants used to stroll and gossip ), Carrer Arago, and the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes ( which cross it longitudinally ), the Avinguda Diagonal ( which crosses it obliquely ), the Rambla ( the liveliest of them all ), and a few squares, such as the Placa de Catalunya.

When the majority of the Eixample’s buildings were constructed, Catalunya was experiencing a time of affluence that started at the beginning of the 19th century, when Barcelona emerged as the economic driving force of the country, lubricated by the Industrial Revolution and stimulated by the feverish activity of the first two decades oi the 20th century, when Catalan factories became main suppliers to the European nations at war. This economic bonanza, together with cultural tendencies such as the Renaixenca and the resurgence of the applied arts, coincided with, and reinforced, the Modernisme movement in all its aspects.

Barcelona is not only the city of Gaudi, an inspired and unclassifiable figure but also of Modernisme itself the architectural style which may be described as a harmonious coexistence between dozens of architect’s hundreds of promoters, and thousands of craftsmen, all working together.

In the city of Barcelona, Modernism ( following the above description ), displays its most emblematic works, and the key figures behind its creation are on constant exhibition, to a degree unsurpassed elsewhere. The foremost example is, undoubtedly, the Palau de la Musica Catalana ( Sant Pere Mes alt, I  ), the work of Louis Domenech I Montaner. Built between 1905 and 1908 as a seat of the Orfeo Catala choral society, Palau is one of the most beautiful and overwhelming concert halls in the world. Conceived with total freedom of expression, despite the limited dimensions of the site, it is a display of architecture in which technical audacity, symbolism, and rich craftsmanship all play their part. Floral and poly-chromatic, magical and welcoming, Palau is full of vitality and offers some three hundred concerts each year that are attended by half a million people.

The sum of professional effort and the desire to create a work of art in its totality characterizes Palau and are constant factors in all the Modernist architecture to be found in Barcelona. It is apparent in other works by Domenech I Montane; among them, the Hospital de Sant Pau ( Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167-171 ) and the Casa Lleo Morera ( Passeig de Gracia, 35 ). But, as has already been mentioned, Modernisme is not just the work of a few architects, but a movement in which, to differing degrees, many and diverse social sectors are represented.

Other Modernist works of particular interest should, therefore, be mentioned: the Casa Amatller ( Passeig de Gracia, 41 ) and the Casa de les Punxes ( Diagonal, 416-420 ), both by Josep Puig I Cadafalch; and also some of the works by Jujol, Rubio I Bell-ver, Valeri I Pupurull, Granell, Sayrach, Sagnier, etc. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that a stroll through the Eixample, together with a more detailed study of the more important examples, allows the visitor to enjoy, in a more relaxed and informal manner, the continuous discovery of the splendid building traditions of that time, whether in the form of great monumental construction or a humble shop front.

Hidden architectural treasures may be found in balconies, shop windows, mosaics, cornices, halls, staircases, or lifts if the visitor takes the time to seek them out. Treasures that may be admired from the street itself, but do not end there: some interiors may be visited occasionally ( the Casa Lleo Morera, for example ). Within, the visitor will come across a wealth of authentic craftsmanship, true masterpieces of the applied arts.

This creative abundance, visible both at street level and within the interiors of the buildings, placed Barcelona at the forefront of the great Modernist cities of Europe, such as Paris, London, Munich or Vienna, all of which enjoyed a period of particular splendor at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

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