HOW THE BARCELONA FLOWER SAVED THE CITY’S STREETS AND REPUTATION
For those of you who live in or have visited Barcelona, you undoubtedly have noticed one of the city’s most famous symbols: the Barcelona flower, or “panot de flor.” It’s the tile that covers most of the city’s sidewalks. Due to its popularity, it has been used in many other ways: souvenirs, logos, jewelry, clothing, etc.
But what’s the story behind this iconic flower?
In order to discover its origin, we have to go back to the early 1900s when Barcelona was undergoing its greatest period of urban expansion.
In 1906, Barcelona had an unflattering nickname, “Can Fanga,” or “Mud House.” The city had a major problem with the accumulation of mud on its streets. Every time it rained, the streets would fill with it. This was due to improper street surfacing all throughout the city. The mock and ridicule were unavoidable.
In a Barcelona that had recently torn down its walls and was eager to show its greatness to the world, a bad reputation was something it couldn’t afford.
So what to do?
Tiles were the answer.
With Ildefons Cerdà’s urban development plan for the Eixample, or “Expansion,” district already in motion, the pavement debate in this district was raging. The inhabitants of l’Eixample were left to their own devices to pave the 2.5 meters outside of their homes, many using asphalt, natural stone or cement. The streets were such a mess that their condition only compounded the “mud problem” and became satirized in local newspapers and magazines. In order to rid Barcelona of its bad image, the local government decided to take action.
The Comissió de l’Eixample, or “Eixample Commission,” approved of a homogenization paving project for its sidewalks. To prevent the formation of mud, the commission tossed around ideas for embossed tiles, which would help drain away the rain water, and settled on five models: a skull, a concentric circle, four tablets, four tablets with four circles and the “panot de flor.” These tiles, it was decided, would be made using hydraulic cement, a cheap and effective material that Barcelona happened to be a large producer of. Ten thousand square meters of tiles were ordered and the tiling of the city began. Soon, the “muddy” Barcelona would become a thing of the past, although the “Can Fanga” nickname would survive as a disparaging way to refer to the city by people from other parts of Catalonia.
Of the five original tile designs, the “panot de flor” is the tile that would become one of the protagonists of Catalan modernism. It is the symbol used to mark the Ruta del Modernisme, or “Art Nouveau Route.” It is the design that, back in the 1990s, when it was proposed that, for maintenance reasons, the city should reduce the use of this tile, it caused an uproar amongst Barcelonians. The flower should never disappear, they argued.
Maybe it is its simplistic beauty that caused people to gravitate towards it. The power of a symbol is rarely easy to explain. However, it is argued that part of the reason for its rise to iconic status lies in the debate of its designer. The name of the designer is mostly a mystery. Although there is no sufficient proof to support the claim, many believe that the original designer of the deeply loved “panot de flor” was Josep Puig i Cadafalch, the Catalan modernist architect. The reasoning behind this is that inside the entry of Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Ametller you can see that the ground is covered by four-leafed-flower tiles, similar to that of the “panot.” Because the Barcelona flower is such an emblematic symbol of Catalan modernism and of the city itself, it’s understandable that people would like to believe that Puig i Cadafalch is the author of the design. It would be both poetic and romantic if it were true. Evidence suggests that this isn’t the case, though, as the Casa Ametller flower tile doesn’t use the same material nor does it have the same exact design as the “panot.”
The reality is that there is no official credit given to any individual. There is historical evidence that points to Casa Escofet, the paving company which designed all five tiles that were approved by the Eixample Commission. Nevertheless, even this bit of information hasn’t settled the debate once and for all.
Maybe the designer shouldn’t matter so much.
Perhaps it’s enough to know that the Barcelona flower was designed to help solve one of the city’s biggest modern-day problems and grew to become the symbol that both natives and foreigners think of first when they think about one of the greatest cities in the world.
It’s the symbol that has helped write the stories of Barcelona’s streets, which is why we’ve chosen to use it as our logo. Imagine this city’s streets without the “panot de flor.” They wouldn’t be the same, would they? Therefore, Carrers BCN will always carry the “flor” with it.
(In fact, we make our own 100% eco-friendly panots using recycled coffee!)
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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