Why Does Barcelona Have Octagonal City Blocks? Plus More Barcelona Facts

Written By Wise Healthy n Wealthy

Barcelona is stunning at street level, but you can only fully appreciate its unique urban layout from above.

You’re looking at the district of Eixample, which is the Catalan word for “Expansion.”

Located between the old city and what in the past were small towns surrounding it, Eixample dates to the 19th century, when Barcelona was experiencing a growth spurt.

In other words, this now iconic district was built as a literal expansion of the city.

Eixample’s History, Layout, and Purpose

Eixample’s grid design was the brainchild of a pioneering Spanish urban planner and civil engineer called Ildefons Cerdà – who (side note) had a spectacular mustache.

As you can see from the photo and Google Earth image, Eixample is characterized by long, wide streets and distinctive octagonal blocks. Everything is straight-sided and formulaic.

Those octagonal blocks aren’t just for aesthetics, either.

Cerdà considered ventilation, sunlight, and visibility in building them this way. Cutting the corners off what would otherwise have been typical square blocks achieved two things:

In Cerdà’s day, it created more space for horse-drawn carriages to turn around and meant the streets widened at every intersection. The result? Better visibility.

Nowadays, they have similar benefits for drivers, as well as creating some convenient short-term parking areas.

Google Earth Pro image showing the district of Eixample in Barcelona from above.
Eixample’s iconic octagonal blocks, wide streets, and the diagonal avenue crossing the district, as seen on Google Earth Pro.

Differences Between Cerdà’s Original Plan and Reality

Cerdà didn’t get everything his way, though.

He wanted these octagonal blocks to be built on two or three sides, to a limited height, with a garden in the middle—the open side(s) would have provided homes with light and ventilation. They ended up building on all four sides and to a much higher level.

Oh, and you see that diagonal avenue cutting through the district? He’d wanted two of them.

Likewise, Cerdà wanted Eixample to have a diverse population where people from every social class could live. The inhabitants ended up being of a higher class.

There were other examples of this visionary town planner’s ideas not being put into practice. Thankfully, enough were incorporated to make this district the bustling, iconic place it is today.

12 Interesting Facts about Barcelona:

  1. Barcelona welcomes almost 10 million overnight visitors each year.
  2. Barcelona has a 2.8 mile stretch of coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches. But they’re a relatively new development. There weren’t any beaches here prior to the 1992 Olympics, when the city underwent a major transformation in readiness for the event.
  3. Nobody knows for sure how old Barcelona is, but one legend says it was founded by Hercules himself.
  4. Most locals in Barcelona speak two languages: Spanish and Catalan.
  5. Barcelona is home to the inimitable Sagrada Familia – the largest unfinished church in the world. It’s been under construction for over 140 years.
  6. Barcelona is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, seven of which were designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudi (including La Sagrada Familia).
  7. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, which is a distinct region in Spain with its own customs and language (Catalan).
  8. Barcelona has the largest football/soccer stadium on the planet. “Camp Nou” (home to FC Barcelona) can hold just short of 100,000 spectators.
  9. Barcelona has many air raid shelters – relics from the Spanish Civil War.
  10. Barcelona is the only city to have been awarded the Royal Gold Medal for architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
  11. Barcelona’s Parc de Collserola is 22 times bigger than Central Park in New York.
  12. There’s an urban myth that Barcelona could have had the Eiffel Tower instead of Paris.

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