In the mid-nineteenth century, industrialisation on the outskirts of Barcelona and a rising population called for the city to expand. Thus, the City Council decided to demolish the old city walls and put an urban expansion project out to tender to connect the municipalities of Sants, Sarriá, Gràcia, Sant Andreu and Sant Martí, which are now all neighbourhoods of Barcelona. Despite the fact that the winning project was that of the architect Rovira i Trias, more in line with the tastes of the bourgeoisie, the Central Government in Madrid gave the go ahead for the project of the engineer Ildefons Cerdà: an ordered grid pattern formed of octagonal blocks with interior gardens, which made no distinction according to social class, and which has become a symbol of Barcelona. Today, with its 265,000 inhabitants, Eixample is the most populous district in Spain in absolute terms and home to many of the city’s main thoroughfares and modernist buildings. It is intersected by Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and the long Avinguda Diagonal.
The Sagrada Familia Basilica, in the neighbourhood of the same name, is one of the most visited landmarks in the world with some 4.5 million tourists per year. Designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1883, the church is a masterpiece of Catalan Modernism that is still under construction: it is scheduled to be completed in 2026, 100 years after the death of its architect. On Passeig de Gràcia, the main thoroughfare in the Dreta de l’Eixample neighbourhood, there are two other modernist icons, both designed by Gaudí: La Pedrera—officially Casa Milà—with its magnificent terrace adorned with 30 chimneys in astonishing shapes, and Casa Batlló, which has one of the prettiest and most original façades going, crowned by a roof covered in tiles akin to blue and green scales, resembling a dragon.
The neighbourhood is also home to Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona’s main hub and the intersection between the old medieval town and newer city. The square is the starting point for numerous main roads, among them Les Rambles, the city’s liveliest and most famous street. This central part of Eixample also boasts several streets unofficially known as Gayxample, due to the number of hotels and late-night establishments catering towards LGBTI clientele.
On the left side of Eixample are the quieter neighbourhoods of Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample and Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample, whose main attractions include the neo-Romanesque building of the University of Barcelona, the former textile factory Can Batlló (now an industrial college) and Joan Miró Park, presided over by a pool and the Woman and Bird sculpture by the Catalan artist from whom the park takes its name. Close by, almost merging with El Raval, is the Sant Antoni neighbourhood, one of the trendiest areas in the city. Formed around its nineteenth-century market, an influx of young people over recent years has given the neighbourhood a new lease of life.
Finally, on the eastern side of Eixample is Fort Pienc, the greenest and perhaps most unknown neighbourhood in the district, formed around Fort Pius, an old military fortification. Wedged in between Avinguda Diagonal, Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes and the Arc de Triomf, Fort Pienc is a cultural area where you can find the L’Auditori concert hall, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, the Monumental bullring and the Torre Agbar, Barcelona’s most distinctive skyscraper. The neighbourhood has also welcomed a burgeoning Chinese community over recent years.