Barcelona and the Industrial Revolution Cerda´s impression of a city: Barcelona in 1831, by Valeria Alonso
Cerda´s arrival to Barcelona
In 1831, sixteen-year-old Idelfonso Cerdá I Sunyer was traveling from his hometown Centelles --a small, rural town in the northeast outskirts of Barcelona-- and finally approaching, for the first time, “the big city.” His stylishhorse-drawn carriage4 slowly entered the recently built Passeig de Gracia, a magnificent six-lane boulevard carefully designed as the road connector between the old, walled city, and one of the suburban towns: Gracia. Everybody gossiped about Barcelona’s growth, but nobody ever took the time to really describe what Cerdá was witnessing. He was struck by Passeig de Gracia’s “urban quality”: thesymmetrical trace included six tree lanes, two pedestrian lanes, and a central space for carriages. Moreover, he was astonished by the several activities that took place in this avenue, transforming the open space into a new place where people met.
Although Cerdá’s aristocratic rural family had become established in Centelles a long time ago, it had a strong trading and visionary background.This, together with his dream of studying mathematics and architecture, is what induced Cerdá to travel to Barcelona at the age of sixteen, while knowing nothing about cities and how they were socially and physically organized. He soon became part of the migratory flow Barcelona was experiencing, due mainly to industrial development. Cerdá encountered the city’s prosperity as he enjoyed thepromenade in Passeig de Gracia, without expecting what he was about to observe. The carriage stopped as soon as they reached the thick, two-meter wall which limited the old, enclosed city. Apparently, they could not move due to constricted traffic; carriages inside the walled city moved only with difficulty through the narrow roads. Cerdá decided to walk, entering a very narrow, almost dark road. Thatroad led him to a “Little Passeig de Gracia,” a road named Las Ramblas, with even more people and activities, an incredible market which people called “Boquería,” and a theater. The old city’s streets and general orthogonal layout had originally been traced by the Romans in the fifth century, who followed the notions and concepts of Greek civilization. The Romans traced two main axes: cardo anddecumanus. The intersection between these two axes became the center of the city with a political, civic, and cultural use,5 creating a “grid” that organized the terrain.
Cerdá’s journey transformed into an unexpected experience where all his senses were at work. Everybody in the city seemed to be busy, moving, going somewhere, or finishing meticulous tasks. It was as ifhis eyes were not quick enough to glance at every image around him. The smell was unpleasant but he was distracted by the elegant women that passed by him wearing long dresses and carrying a sombrilla or parasol. The sound was not pleasant either, it was too noisy for Cerdá, but he liked feeling the energy of the city. People passed by and pushed him; coming from a town where space was understoodas an inexhaustible resource, the compact city of Barcelona seemed to have used every centimeter available. He felt uncomfortable and extremely interested at the same time; he encountered a city full of contradictory panoramas.
Understanding the Barcelona that Cerdá
In 1831, Barcelona was experiencing progress and social improvement. There was acertain order in the air, in the way people related to each other in the streets. The Spain of those times was very classist –something that especially interested Cerdá--, and hierarchies were clearly marked, not only between families but also in work organization. Civic values were created as a sequence of elements that were needed in order to smooth the conduct of social relations. Trading became...
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