Urban Hygiene and Creative Destruction


  • Marie el Haddad "Universitat de Barcelona"


Barcelona, Urban Hygiene, Walls, Monlau, Cerdà


Barcelona’s old town had been suffering from overpopulation, congestion and several epidemic outbreaks that raised awarness concerning urban hygiene. One of the first intents of urban hygiene began when Carlos III and Carlos IV issued Royal Decrees concerning the exhumation of cemeteries. The first prohibited burial grounds next to churches and hospitals and imposed the conversion of existing ones into public squares, and the second enabled the construction of extramural cemeteries away from populated areas. This gave way to many of Barcelona’s open spaces and small scale squares. The second intent of creating public spaces was taking advantage of the confiscation of ecclesiastic assets, like the Álvarez Mendizábal’s Act (1834-1837) in particular, and the burning of convents in 1835 where the Catholic Church lost a large number of its convents, churches, and colleges to new buildings, streets and squares. In the 19th century, Spain also witnessed a hygienist movement and several doctors and scientists were prominent including Pere Felip Monlau who thoroughly discussed hygiene in all its aspects. Spain, and Barcelona in particular, experienced large waves of immigration coming from rural areas in search of work, and a massive industrial growth. By the 1850’s the old town became overpopulated, increasingly dense, unhealthy and degraded, and was left in an unstable political and social tension. Basically, the old town was suffocating within its own walls. Monlau, as did Cerdà after him, described in his writings the drastic living conditions, the occupied spaces and exceedingly high buildings, the lack of sanitary infrastructure, clean water, sunlight and ventilation. He stressed on the importance of creating open spaces, squares and gardens and their impact on improving urban hygiene. He called for the demolition of old town’s Roman Walls and the expansion towards the urban land reserve of ‘Pla de Barcelona’ or Barcelona Plain. After many debates the destruction of the walls began in 1854 and lasted until 1868.



How to Cite

el Haddad, Marie. 2017. “Urban Hygiene and Creative Destruction”. On the W@terfront 51 (March):7-24. https://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/waterfront/article/view/18620.