At the end of the 19th century Modernism was born in Barcelona. And Catalan nationalism used this art movement as a means of expression, with famous names such as Josep Puig i Cadafalsh, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and, above all, Anonio Gaudí i Cornet.
The Eixemple is full of original buildings that these architects created at the request of powerful millionaires. Barcelona can brag about having more modernist buildings than any other city in Europe.
This style reached its peak as of 1854, when the Medieval fortifications were demolished. This allowed for the city’s growth, through an area which was, until then, for military use only. This “extension” (Eixemple) was performed following Ildefons Cerdá i Sunyer’s project, an urban planner (1815-1876), who designed a very rigorous grid-shaped outline. The buildings in the corners are bevel-shaped so as to allow the vision of crossroads and plazas. A few exceptions include Avinguda Diagonal, one of the most important avenues in Barcelona, which goes all the way down from the distinguished Pedralbes up to the sea.
The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul) was built by the Modernist architect Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923), who was not supportive of the grid plan and deliberately turned the building around so it would face the Sagrada Familia, the most spectacular Modernist building in Barcelona. Barcelona’s business prosperity and its passion for modern influence at that time allowed for the financing of this group of architects’ creations, which include very original residential and government buildings.
Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first big work in the centre of Barcelona, was built under Eusebio Güell’s orders. This rich industrialist provided a young Gaudí with an unlimited budget, which the architect made good use of, in the light of the first-hand quality of the materials that he used to turn Palau Güell in one of the most luxurious buildings in the city. It was basically made of stone covered in marble, and it was decorated with fine hardwood. It was finished in 1889 and has been the magnificent home of the Güell family until 1945.
Casa Batlló, located in the prestigious, charming Passeig de Gràcia, was constructed under the orders of Josep Batlló i Casanovas and redesigned over an existent building. Its new façade consists of organic shapes, fantastic chimneys and an amazing roof, which are as audacious and defying today as they were in 1906, the year it was finished.
In the interior, the openings of the doors, the windows and the galleries show Gaudí’s personal approach to architecture. It is said that the building symbolizes the legend of Saint George and the Dragon.
Casa Milà, another masterful work of this Modernist genius, can also be found in the famous Passeig de Gràcia.
Casa Milà, known as “La Pedrera” (“The Quarry”) is Gaudí’s best contribution to Barcelona’s civil architecture as well as his last work before dedicating entirely to the Sagrada Familia, built between the years 1906 and 1910. La Pedrera did not follow the architectural style of that time, which led to strong criticism. Gaudí built this seven-storey residential building around two irregular patios, and in the basement he built the city’s first underground parking lot. The iron balconies, created by Josep Maria Jujol, look like algae floating over the undulating façade, made out of white stone.
The Mila family lived in the main floor, which shows a Modernist interest. The Espai Gaudí in the top floor shows the work done by the amazing decorator. The terrace can be accessed from here, where the chimneys and air pipes that emerge from the undulating surface are given the name of espantabruixes (witch scarers).