A Brief History of Manzana de la Discòrdia in Barcelona
What is Manzana de la Discòrdia?
Manzana de la Discòrdia, also known as Illa de la Discòrdia or The Block of Discord in English, is a city block named (with knowing wordplay) after a Greek myth, formed of five houses designed by some of the leading Modernist architects of the early 20th century.
Manzana de la Discòrdia History
According to Greek myth, all the divinities were invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis except for Eris, goddess of discord. Yet true to her nature, Eris showed up at their banquet bearing a gift of a golden apple – inscribed with the word kallistei, meaning ‘for the fairest’. Several goddesses fought to claim the apple, forcing Zeus, king of the gods, to intervene; he ordered Paris, the Prince of Troy, to select the fairest goddess in an attempt to put an end to the violence that had ensued. Despite his best efforts, the discord sown by the apple, and Paris’s selection, eventually led to the start of the Trojan War.
From this famous Greek story comes the name for this unusual block of five houses, the so-called Manzana de la Discordia (or literally 'Apple of Discord'), designed by some of the most influential architects of Catalan Modernism. Manzana in Spanish actually translates to both 'apple' and 'city block' and in the story of these residences this seems more than just coincidence: as for the goddesses in the story, bitter rivalry sprang up between the modernist architects vying to design the fairest building here on the Passeig de Gràcia.
The Eixample, the district in which you now stand, became highly fashionable in the 19th century. Families who had prospered in the Catalan Industrial Revolution moved into large properties on the Passeig de Gràcia. This tree-lined boulevard served as the area's main thoroughfare and commercial backbone. A vogue emerged for converting and refurbishing existing buildings as family homes.
Affluent homeowners began commissioning prominent architects of the burgeoning Modernista movement to remodel their new property in eye-catching and opulent style. In a stroke, these modernist renovations transformed the block from an unremarkable terrace of houses into a showcase of the boldest, most innovative contemporary architecture.
Despite the surge in demand, the desire for architecturally avant-garde houses sparked fierce competition. Architects were pitted against each other to secure contracts with Barcelona's wealthiest and most respected citizens and create a name for themselves. Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch were some of the most prestigious architects of the time and were all commissioned to work on the block.
Aware that the houses they designed would stand alongside those of their rivals, each architect strived to design the most impressive façade. The results surprised and shocked the public, and in the ensuing reaction the row’s unusual name was born: contemporary newspapers mocked the rivalry by dubbing the block 'La Manzana de la Discòrdia’.
The block neatly highlights the essence of the Catalan Modernist movement. From curved walls to scaled façades, these works have given Barcelona a unique identity and inspired many artists and architects throughout the years. Despite the rivalry, the Manzana de la Discòrdia offers a glimpse into the life of the ‘better society’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
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