One of the biggest draws to Barcelona is its architecture. From stunning showpieces such as Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar to the robust beauty of the Gothic quarter, the architectural variety in Barcelona is quite remarkable. But if there were one singular style that could be termed truly ‘Barcelonese’ it would be modernisme.
Most people may be aware of the modernisme through the fluid, almost organic works of Antoni Gaudí, the movement’s most famous exponent. But there are many more notable contemporaries of the great architect, and most of their work can be seen in the neighbourhood of the Eixample (or ‘Extension’) the 19th century, grid-like ‘new town’ that spans northward from Plaça Catalunya. And the best way to see it is on foot.
Start your modernisme walk is the Passeig de Gràcia, a high-end shopping strip that is paved with hexagonal-shaped, grey-blue tiles designed Gaudí. Head to the cross street with C/ Aragó and you will be standing in front of the zenith of modernisme: the Manzana de Discòrdia (or ‘Block of Discord). These three buildings are all showstoppers: built for a chocolate baron, the Casa Amatller resembles a fairy-tale Flemish townhouse, whilst the Casa Lleó Morera (now occupied by the luxe leatherwear makers Loewe) drips with wedding-cake sculpture. But its Gaudí’s Casa Batlló that steals the show: a glittering, sinuous edifice inspired by the legend of George and the Dragon.
A little further along (on the corner of C/ Provença) you’ll find another of Gaudí’s masterpieces: La Pedrera. Seemingly carved out of a single piece of stone, with an undulating cliff-like façade and tangled, wrought-iron balconies, it was ridiculed when opened yet is now one of the city’s top attractions. Climb to the roof and you’ll have a great view of the spires of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s great (and yes, still unfinished) swansong.
Continue along C/ Provença and turn left. On the next corner is the enchanting Palau Baró de Quadras, which is covered in intricate mosaics and carvings and now home to the Casa Ásia cultural centre. There is generally a free exhibition on, and its well worth popping in to see the interior of this stunning building. Then follow the Avenida Diagonal west one block and you’ll hit the Casa de Les Punxes (or ‘House of Spikes’) named after its six, witch’s hat towers.
There are many more modernista treasures in the Eixample, from scene stealing apartment buildings to florid farmacias and countless other details. You may pick a map of Barcelona’s ‘Modernista Route’ at any tourist office, or, simply amble through the elegant streets of the Eixample, Barcelona’s great open-air museums.