Barcelona is a buzzing, contemporary city where the accent is on here, now and tomorrow. But at the same time it presents a glorious and colourful history, that survives in some of the most interesting Art Nouveau architecture in Europe. Here it's known as Modernisme.
By the mid-19th century, the city of Barcelona was expanding past its mediaeval walls, and as a result, a new city plan had to be drafted. Civil engineer Ildefons Cerdá was chosen for this task. In 1859 he proposed a grid system of intersecting streets, and so the developing Eixample neighborhood began to take shape along these lines. However, this new urban plan was only the first of many changes that would take place in Eixample. New ideas were in the air and a new style of art and architecture was slowly beginning to emerge. In Barcelona it was adopted by talented architects, and it developed into what is now known as Modernisme. The new style also acquired some political nuances, becoming closely identified with Catalan aspirations for independence.
However not everyone welcomed the grid-like urban structure. Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of Barcelona’s most prominent architects at that time, absolutely abhorred the plan. In fact his famous Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau (Carrer de Sant Antoni Maria Claret 167) is deliberately positioned at an angle with respect to the street. This hospital is certainly one that you will enjoy visiting: you can see the sculptural ornaments, mosaic murals and colourful elements that are typical traits of Modernisme. Domènech began designing the hospital in 1902, but it was completed only in 1930, three years after the architect’s death.
A short walk down Avinguda de Gaudí brings you to Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Carrer de Mallorca 401). This recently consecrated church has become a symbol of the city of Barcelona, as well as an iconic image of the Modernisme style of architecture. The New Yorker’s Paul Goldberger considers it “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.” The Sagrada Familia is due to be completed in 2028. It is one of Spain’s most visited landmarks, and after a visit you will understand why.
Continuing along Carrer de Provença, you reach Casa Terrades (Avinguda Diagonal 416), which resembles something out of a fairy-tale. This house, built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1905, is easily recognized from its six turrets which have extremely ornate spires. A characteristic feature of this building, shared by many Modernisme constructions, is the use of red brick.
By taking Carrer de Rossello you reach the prestigious Paseo de Gracia, famous as being Barcelona’s top shopping street. Here you will find the biggest names in fashion, jewellery, and much more. Paseo de Gracia also has some architectural gems. Firstly, there is Casa Mila (Paseo de Gracia 92) with its undulating stone façade, completed by Gaudí in 1910. It is possible to visit several of the apartments in this building, with original furnishings by Gaudí. We certainly recommend a visit to the rooftop where you can see Gaudí’s quirky chimneys; on this floor you will also find the Gaudí Museum. After your visit at Casa Mila, don't miss a look in to Lolita Bakery (Carrer de Provença 267), where there is a superb selection of delicious pastries baked fresh every day.
Continuing south, shopping highlights include Tiffany & Co. (Paseo de Gracia 38/40) inside the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona and Cartier (Paseo de GRacia 35) boutiques, with their splendid jewellery and bespoke products. The Spanish store Rabat (Paseo de Gracia 99) offers a vast selection of timepieces from top names in the field; it is famous for its high levels of service and expertise. Michelin-starred Lasarte Restaurant (Carrer Mallorca 259) is a great place to stop by for lunch: enjoy Chef Martin Berasategui’s take on Catalan flavours.
As you proceed down Paseo de Gracia, you will soon reach the famous Illa de la Discòrdia. This picturesque block comprises three contrasting buildings, Casa Batlló by Gaudí, Casa Amatller by Cadafalch and Casa Lleó Morera by Domènech.
Casa Amatller is the oldest, built in 1900 for chocolatier Antoni Amatller. It is immediately recognisable from its stepped façade. Try to take a peep inside to see the gorgeous stone staircase and the roof canopy made of stained glass.
At the very corner of the block you will see Domènech’s Casa Lleó Morera with its ornate sculptured façade. You will recognize it from the ground level with the Loewe (Paseo de Gracia 35) boutique, a Spanish brand specializing in quality leather products. A visit to this store is highly recommended as it has been recently renovated.
Gaudí’s Casa Batlló is also easy to identify, with its dragon-like rooftop and colourful ceramic facade. This is a must-see and we advise a visit inside for a better look at Gaudí’s famous parabolic arches and bright ceramic compositions. Take a look inside the Ermenegildo Zegna (Paseo de Gracia 29-31) boutique, world-famous for its top-quality menswear. A culinary tip: at Casa Calvet (Carrer de Casp 48) you can enjoy a sumptuous meal in a unique designer setting within one of Gaudí’s buildings.
To conclude your tour of Modernisme, it's a great idea to go into the Old City area and make your way to Palau de la Música Catalana (Carrer de Sant Francesc de Paula 2). This palace, also built by Domènech, is dedicated to music, is an absolute gem. The building’s elaborate brick façade with numerous arches and sculptures offers a sharp contrast with the surrounding buildings. However it is the interior that is most impressive. The ceiling is adorned with brick and colourful ceramic, and in the foyer you can also admire the exquisite stained glass work. The concert hall seats 2,200 people and is simply spectacular, with an elaborately decorated stage including sculptures of 18 muses, and busts of great musicians.
The most dramatic feature is without doubt the inverted glass dome. This is a stained glass masterpiece, and it makes Palau de la Música Catalana one of the few concert halls with natural lighting. The best way to see it is during one of the concerts held there, but it is also included in guided tours.