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Plaza de Catalunya, the current nerve center of the city, would not exist if the plan drawn up by Ildefons Cerdà had been followed to the letter, since at this time only blocks 39 and 40 would exist, designed in the urbanization project of the Eixample.
When the Spanish authorities allowed the demolition of the walls and the expansion of the city outside of them, in front of it there was only some land that separated it from the nearby towns, on which it was forbidden to do any kind of construction.
The Portal de l’Angel
The esplanade was a space that began at the exit of the wall through the old gate “dels Orbs”, current Portal de l’Àngel. The current name according to a legend was due to the gratitude of the city to San Vicente Ferrer who, in 1419, when he came to visit Barcelona, found that Barcelona was immersed in a plague epidemic. The saint prayed to heaven and an angel appeared to him who freed the city from the disease. In gratitude, they gave the place this name Puerta del Ángel (l Portal de l’Àngel).
It was the gate with the most traffic of people and merchandise of all those of the second wall
From here departed the carriages that left for the towns in the direction of Girona and France. With the disappearance in 1854 of the walls, the gate was destroyed. From that moment on, the place of union between the walled city and the incipient expansion became the Portal del Ángel.
The train station and the Rondas
In 1852, two years before the demolition of the walls began, construction began on the mountain side at the height of the current Rambla de Catalunya and Ronda Universidad, the original Martorell station, the first Spanish line to use the double track .
It was owned by Miquel Baguè, who obtained the license for the route to Martorell. Subsequently, the concession license was acquired by the Compañía de los Caminos de Hierro del Centro de Cataluña, which inaugurated the first section to Molins de Rei on August 24, 1854.
In 1869, with the beginning of the attempt to urbanize the area, a part of the Rondas should pass through the place where the station was located.
Cerdà, given the narrowness of the streets inside the wall, had designed the Rings. It would be a fast circulation route, which would surround the old wall from the Arc de Triomf to the Marqués del Duero avenue and which would avoid having to travel inside the old city.
The City Council made the decision to move it, since the station was an impediment to its development, according to the expansion urbanization plan.
About the place of the new location, there are discrepancies, while some say that it was moved to the old station of the MZA company, others point out that it was built at the end of Marqués del Duero avenue, near the old Huertas de San Beltrán, near from the later Morrot station.
Urban planning to avoid cannon shots
The old ban on the part of the government not to allow buildings to be built within 1.2 kilometers of the wall moats, so that it would be impossible to reach them with a cannon shot of those times, turned the large open space into a place ideal for outdoor markets.
It had also been used by the population to celebrate parties and big events, which needed a large space close to the city and that did not exist inside the wall.
Cerdà projected the urbanization of the Rondas on the mountain side and had designed blocks 39 and 40
In his project, he had placed the center of the city in the current Plaza de les Glòries, the meeting place of the three great avenues that he had designed to cross the city: Diagonal, Gran Vía and Avenida Meridiana.
In 1869, the City Council made the decision to urbanize the place and demolish the station, but one thing was the purpose and another to be able to carry it out, due to the impediments of the people affected by its disappearance. The station was not closed until October 25, 1882.
Thirteen mayors of Barcelona in thirteen years
During the thirteen years that have elapsed since the closure and its demolition, thirteen mayors passed through the town hall, which gives an idea of the ungovernability of the city.
Another example of how things were done was that, since the closure decree once annulled at the beginning of the demolition of the entire complex, work was paralyzed for two years.
The State, tired of the lack of action by the municipal authorities, in 1886 expropriated the land and began to demolish it. That year the Civil Governor authorized the opening of the Ronda de San Pedro, from Paseo de Gracia to Rambla de Catalunya. The Riera d’en Malla (towards Caspe Street) began to be diverted and blocked.
As can be seen, on that date there was still nothing to foresee the construction of the Plaza de Catalunya.
The decree to consider the area as building land, put a part of the municipal councilors and the entire population in total disagreement, who contemplated that with this provision a place that had been tenaciously claimed was lost.
In 1860, a group of councilors, pressured by the majority of the citizens, completely disagreed with the total follow-up of the Cerdá Plan, asking the State bodies to repeal that part of the plan, which did not provide for the construction of the square , requesting the necessary permission for its rectification.
The petition to change the use of the affected land was a resounding failure
Víctor Balaguer, who had received the commission in 1863, for the realization of the new toponymy of the new streets of the expansion, echoed in his book The streets of Barcelonaof the contradictions through which the wasteland passed:
At the exit of La Rambla, before it connects with its extension, and before entering Paseo de Gracia, there is today a vast expanse of land that the public has come to call a plaza and that the newspaper releases and the vulgar have baptized with the name of “Plaza de Catalunya”.
The Spanish authorities (aware of the significant growth of citizen opposition), decided to impose the indications of the Cerdá Plan, with the consequent submission of part of the municipal authorities. For this they urgently approved the construction of buildings within the lands of discord.
Manuel Gibert i Sans, lawyer, soldier and president of the Gran Teatro del Liceo, in 1832, had acquired the land of Plaza de Cataluña that continued along Paseo de Gracia and reached Calle Cortes (now Gran Vía).
Knowing the construction regulations for block 40, he quickly requested authorization for the construction of his family home in that place.
The authorities took advantage of the request for permission by Gibert, a great man of Catalan society, for the construction of his house, to announce with great fanfare the laying of the first stone for September 4, 1860, which he would attend with special character SA Real Isabel II.
another train station
The year 1863 marked the departure of the second train station that was built on the perimeter of the future square in front of the old walls.
The request for the concession of the railway from Barcelona to Sarrià had been made in 1851. It brought passengers from Barcelona closer to another town (independent at the time).
Three years had passed since the inauguration of the first line Barcelona – Mataró.
The building was built on the corner of Rambla de Canaletas and Pelayo, and the platforms then on the surface ran along Pelayo Street to Balmes Street.
It was a small line of 4.6 km that linked the two towns, circulating through the towns of Gracia and San Gervasio until reaching Sarrià.
The urbanization of what is now Plaza Catalunya was not part of the forecasts made by the people and the official bodies, so it was accepted that not only residential buildings be built, but also venues for shows and shops.
This history of the origins of Plaza de Catalunya will continue shortly with blocks 39 – 40.
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