When walking through the lovely Barcelona streets, you will be no stranger to the elegant charm of the Eixample. With its imposing 19th-century layout, it is the heart city's architecture. Magnificent modernist buildings gaze proudly over the tree-lined boulevards.
The Eixample's urban lattices are speckled with green. Many of these green spaces have been carved in recent years from the patios that form the center of each city block. They can be reached down narrow passageways or by cutting through a building.
Hidden from view, these public gardens and courtyards offer refuge from the urban rush and an intimate view of everyday Barcelona life.
These green spaces are a nod to the vision of Idelfons Cerdà i Sunyer. He was a progressive civil engineer, who designed the district of Eixample. When he submitted his plan in 1859, the city Cerdà had in mind was to be functional rather than flamboyant, a breed of socialist utopia where rich and poor would live side-by-side in city blocks of identical size wrapped around parks and kitchen gardens.
He had an ambitious desire to expand the city, such as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann's plan for remodeling the chaotic center of Paris earlier in the decade.
Some streets became more equal than others, with grand avenues sprouting elaborate mansions that made the Eixample a showcase for modernist architects like Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Later on, greedy developers constructed more and taller buildings, breaking with Cerdà's vision. These buildings cut the light and public spaces, which were supposed to make the city sanitary and pleasant. The patios inside each block became cluttered with warehouses, garages and offices.
However, the green spaces that Cerdà believed would define the Eixample prefigured a very contemporary need. As part of an effort to make Barcelona greener, in earlier years the city has created 40 gardens and plans to add more, as well as create a network of pedestrian-only areas.
“We're returning to Cerdà's original concept,” said Professor Muñoz. “The vision we have for the city now isn't very different from the one he had, 150 years ago.”
Courtyards and green spaces in Eixample
- The garden of the Palau Robert. It is a late-19th-century mansion that hosts the Catalan tourist office. Can be found through the door of the palace, at Passeig de Gràcia 107, or through two gates around the corner on Diagonal.
- At the popular shop Vincon, at Passeig de Gràcia 96, you can sit in the peaceful courtyard behind the shop and check out the undulating balconies on the rear façade of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà.
- In the courtyard at the end of the Pasaje Rector Oliveras, children clamber on the climbing frame in the shadow of the Gothic Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was moved stone by stone from the old city in the late 1800's.
- The gardens of la Torre de les Aigües can be found via a dark passageway at Calle Roger de Llúria 56, one of the first patios returned to the public by the city in the late 1980's and home to a looming brick water tower.
“The patios are like a window into Barcelona,” said Francesc Muñoz Ramírez, a professor of urban geography at the Barcelona Autonomous University. “You can be an urban voyeur.... watch the business of the city from the inside.”
To find out more about Cerdà and his courtyards, check out the following link: www.anycerda.org