Barcelona and Modernism

If there is an artistic movement that has shaped the personality of Barcelona, it is Modernism. If we could travel back in time to visit pre-modernist Barcelona, we would not even recognise it.

But… when and why did Modernism arise?

Origins of Modernism

This eclectic movement arose at the end of the 19th Century and spread across Europe. In fact, it is known by several different names: Art Nouveau (in France, Belgium, Spain and Hispanic America) Liberty or Floreale (in Italy), Jugendstil (in Germany and the Nordic countries), Modernisme (in Catalonia)…

As almost always happens when a new trend occurs, modernism emerged with the intention of creating a new, free and modern art, breaking with all previous trends. The idea was to move away both from academic traditions (such as historicism) and from unconventional traditions (realism or impressionism).

Historic context

If we look at the historic context, we find the perfect breeding ground for Modernism to penetrate every corner of the new Barcelona that was under creation:


The Industrial Revolution, which represented a rupture in every respect and promoted a climate of change.

TheFirst Universal Exhibition of Spain in 1888, organised in Barcelona. This was one of the triggers that led the city to throw itself into the construction of buildings, giving rise to several urban changes.

The economic boom, not only as a result of the industrial revolution, but also of the “disaster of 98” and the loss of the final colonies. Many of those who had gone to “make it big in the Americas” returned with their fortunes, with an air of modernity and eager to change things.

Barcelona was experiencing a time of exaltation of Catalan values through the Renaixença movement. Because of this, a new bourgeoisie was developing, investing in culture, art and architecture, with great inquisitiveness and a strong national sentiment.

The development of the Cerdà Plan. At the same time, and in response to this rapid pace of growth, the Cerdà Plan emerged, with the objective of expanding the city beyond its former walls. Ildefons Cerdà based his plan on a grid line structure, today known as l’Eixample (El Ensanche).

Characteristics of Modernism in Barcelona

Modernism in Barcelona became a cultural trend expressed in the arts and in philosophy, achieving its full expression in architecture. It contributed, without a doubt, to the transformation of Barcelona, because it represented an explosion of colour, of decorative exuberance, of wavy and sinuous lines (as Gaudí himself said, the curved line is the line of God), and the recovery of all of the arts applied to an original and innovative architecture: sculpture, painting, ceramics, glass and wrought iron.

The façade of Casa Batlló is a reflection of this, an authentic explosion of creativity and materials inspired by nature and by the best-known legend in Catalan culture: The Legend of Saint George.

Prominent architects in Catalan Modernism

The unique character of Catalan Modernism in architecture is due to geniuses such as Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and the architect considered as the maximum representative of Modernism: Antoni Gaudí.

It can be said that Domènech i Montaner played a very important role in the definition of “architectural Modernism” thanks to an article that he published indicating the keys to architecture reflecting the Catalan national character. He created important modernist works such as the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital of Sant Pau. An interesting fact about this figure is that he was teacher to Puig i Cadafalch, Antoni Gaudí and Josep Mª Jujol…

Josep Puig i Cadafalch built Casa Amatller in 1900, combining the Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles… In fact, the roof of the façade resembles that of Dutch houses, although very few people know that he did not create the triangular roof simply for aesthetic reasons, but rather it was done to camouflage Mr Amatller’s photography studio (located on the building’s terrace).

In relation to Antoni Gaudí, here is more information about his outstanding works and biography.

Modernist works on Paseo de Gracia

Formerly, the road that connected the city of Barcelona to the village of Gracia was called “el camino de Jesús” (the path of Jesus).  Over time, walls were taken down and Ildefons Cerdà’s Urban Plan developed what is today Passeig de Gràcia. The people of Barcelona used to stroll along Passeig de Gràcia to enjoy its luxury stores and the wealthiest business owners wanted to build their homes on this “golden mile”.

This is precisely what the textile manufacturer, Josep Batlló, did. And not only did he select the most emblematic place, but also the most prominent architect at the time, Antoni Gaudí.

To do so, he bought a modest building with the intention of turning it into something spectacular. Not only was this building located at the heart of Passeig de Gràcia, but it was also on the same block as Casa Amatller and Casa Lleó i Morera.

Many say that Gaudí was delighted to accept the commission for the pleasure of sharing space with the best architects at the time: Domènech i Montaner (creator of Casa Lleò i Morera) and Puig i Cadafalch (creator of Casa Amatller).

The result? Three unique modernist buildings created by the most important architects of Modernism and competing to be the “most beautiful” construction. That is why, in reference to Greek mythology, they are popularly known as “the bone of contention”.

Interesting facts about Modernism in Barcelona

To conclude, and further highlighting the importance of Modernism in Barcelona, it should be noted that it is the city with the highest number of modernist buildings on the World Heritage List (with a total of 9, of which 7 were created by Antoni Gaudí). In fact, the city has a “Modernism Walking Tour” and you will know whether you are within one of its main areas if, while strolling down the street, you walk on a paving stone with the famous “panot de flor”, also called the “flower of Barcelona” or “rose of Barcelona”.

These flower-shaped paving stones have become one of the city’s most representative and iconic elements.

And one thing that you can certainly say about Barcelona is that art can be found where you least expect it, even under your shoes!