The streets around the centre of Barcelona still conserve traces of what the Roman city known as Barcino was 2,000 years ago. Centuries later, Visigoths and Moslems set up in the city, attracted by its privileged geographical location. Nevertheless, it was under the Crown of Aragon when Barcelona became one of the main Mediterranean powers during the 13th and 14th Centuries. After the Crown had been united with the Kingdom of Castile, the city lapsed into a period of decadence which was compounded by wars, such as the Reapers' War (Guerra dels Segadors) and the War of Spanish Succession.
Urbanism ‘made in’
Spearheading the country's industrialisation process, the city lived through the economic, political and cultural resurgence we now call the Renaissance. Its splendour and growth led to the demolition of the old walls that surrounded the city and, at the end of the 19th Century, the city annexed its six outlying municipalities. Barcelona was growing and needed a new urban layout that could support the demographic and industrial growth of the epoch. The engineer Ildefonso Cerdà planned a city with buildings that were separated, and wide streets which the sun could reach, making no distinction between social classes, creating self-sufficient neighbourhoods with a large market and a balanced distribution of services.
Unmistakable from the air
Despite the protests of the bourgeoisie, the Cerdà plan was pushed through, albeit with some modifications. Now it has become the planning hallmark of the whole city which, however, is epitomised in the popular neighbourhood of the Eixample. Its wide streets hold some of the best-known routes and squares of Barcelona, such as Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, Plaça de Catalunya, Avinguda Diagonal, Carrer Aragó, Passeig de Sant Joan, Plaça de la Sagrada Família, Plaça Gaudí, and, at its ends, Plaça de les Glòries and Plaça Francesc Macià. The Eixample houses numerous points of tourist interest such as the Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Família, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, the National Theatre of Catalonia, the Auditorium, the Monumental bull ring and the Casa de les Punxes. They can all be reached on foot from Plaça Catalunya, in the city centre.
Open to the sea
Once the walls had been knocked down and the city had been opened up to the rest of the world, the new Barcelona was premiered by hosting an international event, the Universal Exhibition of 1888, which was followed by the 1929 Expo. The 1992 Olympic Games spurred the city on to a new process of transformation to boost its candidacy as Olympic Host. The extension of the airport of El Prat, the creation of the Olympic Village and the construction of sports facilities such as the Palau Sant Jordi and the Olympic Port finally defined Barcelona as a cosmopolitan, dynamic and integrated city.