The Eixample

la pedrera

Extending out from the Ciutat Vella is the area known as El Eixample, and this is a stark contrast to the old town. If the old town is a maze of windy streets and alleys, fisherman's quarters and ancient buildings, El Eixample is a unique example of modern urban planning. An aerial view of this part of the city shows a grid-like formation, with hundreds of “manzanas” or blocks, which now constitute the main area of the city. It is said that its designer, Ildefons Cerdà was heavily criticised by the citizens at the time, until the invention of the traffic light. This area has the largest example of Modernist architecture, which even if you're not a fan of buildings, can't fail to impress you. The city's most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi has many of his works dotted around this area, with Casa Batllóand Casa Mila (La Pedrera), amongst many other works. The first, Casa Batlló has a green mosaic façade, and tiled roof in the style of a dragon's back – paying homage to Saint George and the Dragon, as he is also the patron saint of Catalunya. Finally Casa Mila or La Pedrera (Stone Quarry) is perhaps the most striking of modernistic buildings, with its stone front and iron balconies and when you look at it now, and think to yourself “wow – it's amazing but weird”, just think what the people who witnessed it's construction must have thought! A must see while you're here in the city, and the rooftop terrace is worth the entrance fee alone.

el eixample

The Eixample is a large area and has many bars, restaurants, art galleries and of course, shops, shops, shops. Shopping in Barcelona is a pleasure, with many high street brands alongside boutiques, designed shops and department stores like the huge El Corte Ingles at Plaça Catalunya. On the right-hand side of the Eixample, towering above its surroundings is perhaps the landmark of the city, and Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece the Temple of the Holy Family, or Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. Gaudi dedicated the last years of his life to this work, and is buried in the church itself. This is a “must-see” of the city, and it's well worth spending a morning there to climb the spires (or take the lift), visit the museum (to see the models of the finished building), and to see just how it all came about. If possible, avoid going on a Monday, as it's one of the few attractions open.

Just to make sure that you leave Barcelona a Gaudi expert, there's one final stop on the borders on Eixample and Horta is Park Güell. This is a park, based on English Gardens, and where Gaudi lived during 20 years of his life while he worked here. The original idea was to make an exclusive housing neighbourhood with plots of land for sale, giving Barcelona it's own “Beverley Hills” if you like. Sadly the idea didn't work out exactly as Gaudi had planned and the Parc had to be saved many years later by the Catalan Government, and restored to be a natural Park. Again, this is well worth a morning or afternoon of your day, and our tip is to start from the back and go down (the majority of the park is inclined) – take the green line metro (L3) to Vallcarca, and follow the signs. This way you can start with some fantastic views, Gaudi's old house (now museum) and leave the best till last – the entrance, with it's Hansel and Gretel style houses, waterfalls and ornate entrance gates. Don't forget your camera.

Crossing the city like a belt is the street Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes west to east, and Avenida Diagonal, crossing the city north west to south east (funnily enough, diagonally). At the end of Diagonal is a new area called Diagonal Mar – next to the beach, and high rise apartment blocks with swimming pools, etc. although the area is very underdeveloped, and has a long way to go. Also here is the area of the Forum of Cultures 2004. This event ran in May of 2004 and continued until September and was billed as a kind of 'cultural olympics' with many distinguished guests speaking there. The site is now another popular spot for conferences, congresses and festivals.

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