Barcelona’s most famous neighborhood, this late 19th-century urban development is known for its dazzling Art Nouveau architecture. Called the "Expansion" in Catalan, the district appears on the map as a geometric grid laid out north above the Plaça de Catalunya. The upscale shops, the art galleries, the facades of the Moderniste townhouses, and the venues for some of the city’s finest cuisine, are the attractions here
for visitors and barcelonins alike.
The Eixample (ay-shompla) is an open-air Moderniste museum. Designed as a grid, in the best Cartesian tradition, the Eixample is oddly difficult to find your way around in; the builders neglected to number the buildings or alphabetize the streets, and even Barcelona residents can get lost in it. The easiest orientation to grasp is the basic division between the well-to-do Dreta, to the right of Rambla Catalunya looking inland, and the more working-class Ezquerra to the left. Eixample locations are also either mar (on the ocean side of the street) or muntanya (facing the mountains).
The Eixample was created when the Ciutat Vella’s city walls were demolished in 1860, and Barcelona embarked on a vast expansion, financed by the return of rich colonials from the Americas, aristocrats who had sold their country estates, and the city’s industrial magnates. They expected their investment to trumpet not only their own wealth and influence, but also the resurgence of Barcelona itself and its unique cultural heritage—not Spanish, but Catalan, and modern European. The grid was the work of engineer Ildefons Cerdà, and much of the construction was done in the peak years of the Moderniste movement by a who’s who of Art Nouveau architects, starring Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner, and Puig i Cadafalch; rising above it all is Gaudí’s Sagrada Família church. The Eixample’s principal thoroughfares are La Rambla de Catalunya and the Passeig de Gràcia, where many of the city’s most elegant shops occupy the ground floors of the most interesting Art Nouveau buildings.