Modern Barcelona was born with the Eixample, a district stretching from the Plaça d'Espanya almost as far as the river Besòs. Its continuous grid layout connected the old town (the present-day district of Ciutat Vella) with the other towns and villages on the Barcelona plain (Gràcia, Sants, Sant Martí de Provençals, Sant Andreu, Sarrià, etc.), which later became Barcelona neighbourhoods. The Eixample is the result of one of the most splendid periods in the city's history: a time when it was establishing its position as the economic powerhouse of Catalonia and Spain in the mid-19th century. This economic growth was reflected in the expansion of the city when the Madrid government lifted the ban it had imposed since 1714 on building outside the city walls, following the victory of the Bourbon dynasty in the War of the Spanish Succession (Barcelona had supported the House of Hapsburg).
The Eixample project was the brainchild of the engineer and town planner Ildefons Cerdà, who designed an egalitarian city with uniform neighbourhoods and evenly distributed public services. Its grid-like layout and blocks with chamfered corners have made it an iconic symbol of Barcelona and the subject of study around the world as a paradigm of the birth of modern rational urban planning. The Plan was approved in 1860, but it wasn't implemented until several decades later, tying in with the greatest creative expression of the "modernista" architectural style, which permeates the entire district and makes the Eixample a peerless ensemble in Europe.
During this period, under the reign of the church of the Sagrada Família, Barcelona's thriving bourgeoisie vied with each other in terms of aesthetic refinement and hired the services of the foremost architects of the time, including Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch, to build their homes in "modernista" buildings – La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Amatller – with their interiors and façades lavishly decorated with a wide variety of materials: wood, stone, ceramic, leaded glass and wrought iron.
Keep your eyes peeled as you stroll around the neighbourhood and admire the legacy of the finest Catalan architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You'll explore iconic streets like Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya, which are home to the top fashion boutiques selling leading local and international brands, countless restaurants serving Catalan haute-cuisine and an endless array of cafés and bars, which have made the area the favourite shopping place for many locals and visitors to the city.
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