Cerdà, Plan official de la Ciutat Nova (1918)

After the Principality of Catalonia was forced to surrender most of its medieval privileges to the new Bourbon rulers of Spain in 1714, the Catalonian capital, Barcelona transformed into a highly policed city. The Bourbons constructed a citadel that dominated the city’s landscape and fortified a medieval wall to insulate the city from outside threats. The wall so effectively limited the city’s growth that in 1840 the territorial extent of Barcelona was roughly the same size as it had been in the fourteenth century. High population density, combined with air and water pollution, incubated disease within the city’s medieval walls, causing a number of epidemics into the mid-nineteenth century. The wall became a symbol of Catalonian suppression and of the need for political reform. Demolition of the wall finally began in 1854 with the start of the Bienio Progresista (Two Progressive Years) in which radical citizens demanded more autonomy from central rule in Madrid. The Ministry of Development commissioned Ildefons Cerdá, a prominent civil engineer and progressive politician, to draw up a plan for the city’s expansion beyond the medieval wall. Cerdá’s 1858 plan for the Eixample, or Extension, was heavily influenced by studies of social conditions within the cramped medieval city. This reproduction of a portion the Cerdá’s plan presents a stark contrast between the crowded and chaotic plan of the old city, and the spacious uniform grid, generously punctuated by parklands, he proposed.

Cerdá envisioned his Barcelona plan as an opportunity for both extension of the city’s limits and reform of its urban character. Though the Ministry of Development approved the plan in 1859, bureaucratic meddling unfortunately prevented many of Cerdá’s key design features from coming to fruition. Avenues were narrowed, planned parks disappeared, and the residential areas were over-built. Regardless, the 1858 Eixample plan demonstrates a particularly Catalan approach to city planning that celebrated regional character over national identity. Though the Plan of Chicago does not mention Cerdá’s plan for the expansion of Barcelona, the Eixample anticipates many of the design principles of the City Beautiful movement, its motivation to relieve overcrowding, and to provide for well-regulated growth.



Aibar, Eduardo and Wiebe E. Bijker. “Constructing a City: The Cerdá Plan for the Extension of Barcelona.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 22 (Winter 1977): 3-30.

Busquets, Joan. Barcelona: The Urban Evolution of a Compact City. Nicolodi & Harvard University Graduate School of Design: Actar Distribution, 2006.

Costa, Carme Fiol. Réticules I Diagonals: El Plan Jaussely de Barcelona de 1907 I el Plan Burnham de Chicago de 1909. Barcelona: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, 2007.

Kagan, Richard L. Spanish Cities of the Golden Age: The Views of Anton van den Wyngaerde. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Wynn, Martin. “Barcelona: Planning and Change 1854-1977.” The Town Planning Review 50 (April 1979): 185-203.



“From Barcino to BCN: The History of Barcelona.” Jaume Sobrequés, Director. Ajuntamente de Barcelona. http://www.bcn.cat/historia/index_en.htm


Ildefons Cerdà, Plan official de la Ciutat Nova, fet en 1858 per N’Anfós Cerdà (Barcelona: Establiment editorial de Albert Martin, 1908-1918), pp. 862-3. Mapping property of Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, available at www.icgc.cat