As you walk or cycle through the streets of Barcelona, you will have noticed these little flowers on the cobblestones of the city. This motif has become one of the symbols of Barcelona, but do you know where it really comes from?
Symbol of Modernism
From the middle of the 19th century, Barcelona experienced a strong economic and urban expansion. The industrial revolution that affected Europe at that time allowed the Catalan capital to enter the modern era. It began to build a new district, the Eixample, which means “the extension” in Catalan. Many modern buildings appeared. The streets, however, were not yet adapted: they looked more like dirt roads, sometimes covered with gravel.
The problem arose when it rained, as the streets turned into streams of mud that flowed down the mountain to the sea. To solve these urban problems, the town council decided to pave the streets. For economic and resistance reasons, concrete slabs measuring 20 x 20 cm were used. This type of paving is called panot in Catalan. Other very old slabs have also been found in the Montjuïc and Gòtic districts.
Five types of tiles were standardised: flower, calavera (four circles with a square in the centre), four concentrated circles, four squares and four squares with four circles inside. In 1916, the company Escofet y Cia won a competition from the town council to pave the town. It lined many streets with the five forms of panots.
However, two paving patterns have become the majority. These are the four-square tablet and, above all, the Barcelona “flower”. Why these two symbols? Because the tablet is easy to make and practical if one or more tiles need to be replaced, as it can be subdivided. The flower, on the other hand, allows water to be stored in its grooves in case of rain and to walk without risk.
An influence of Josep Puig i Cadafalch?
Legend has it that the flower motif was inspired by one of the city’s most important architects, Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
In fact, a four-petal flower-shaped slab was first used to pave the entrance to the Casa Amatller, a modernist house on the Passeig de Gràcia, built between 1898 and 1900. However, this flower design is not exactly like the famous Barcelona flower. The link between the architect and the Barcelona cobblestones is therefore not proven.