Barcelona in the Details Part II: Streetlights

My last piece dealt with sidewalks in Barcelona, something which many people do not notice as they are hurrying past. Now let’s move on to something a bit more obvious, if often ignored: street lights. As with its sidewalks, Barcelona puts a lot of thought into the look of how it illuminates the neighborhood. Although there are many interesting new lighting designs around the city, I want to concentrate on what I would consider some of the classic 19th and 20th century urban light fixtures.

What one might call the “classic” cast-iron Barcelona streetlight comes in a variety of forms: single, multi-branched, and even fountain-based. These elegant Victorian lamps feature slender posts and tapered, almost conical glass shades, surmounted by open crowns:

A few of these ornate 19th century lamps sit atop of public drinking fountains, which themselves can hold one or more spigots. The most famous of all is the Font de Canaletes, located at the top of the Ramblas, where Barça fans usually gather to celebrate. Local legend, as is well known, is that if you drink from the Canaletes fountain you will be certain to return to Barcelona someday.

A variation on this classic design was made by Gaudí himself, on his first public commission for the city of Barcelona. He came up with a somewhat unusual, if a bit clunky, variation on this style – complete with Mercury’s helmet – for the Plaça Reial just off the Ramblas:

Also along the Ramblas, one finds an incongruous Chinese Dragon lamp above the former Casa Bruno Quadras umbrella shop, built in 1891:

Nearby, the unusual triple globe pendants of the Carrer Feran almost resemble fishermen’s glass buoys suspended in nets, as one sees along the Costa Brava.

Ferran is one of the few (comparatively) wide streets to cut into the heart of the medieval city and these lights make the most of their space. They are attached to the facades of buildings so as to free up space on the sidewalk, but take full advantage of the additional height and width available to them. More typical of the cramped and twisting corners of the old city, which make full street lighting virtually impossible, is the simple sconce shown below:

Just as the Passeig de Gracia features perhaps the most unusual sidewalk surface in Barcelona, visitors cannot help to notice the equally unusual combination of sinuous broken tile bench and cantilevered street lamp that appears all along Barcelona’s most fashionable street:

Surprisingly enough, this is not the work of Gaudí, but rather of Catalan architect Pere Falqués i Urpí. These unusual pieces of street furniture were installed in 1906. Falqués also designed the overwhelmingly monumental, massive streetlamps that form the spine of the Avinguda de Gaudí, though these were moved here from their original location on a square some distance away:

There are other street lights in Barcelona that catch the stroller’s fancy. Some of them are not even, at present, working lights – for example the ancient torchieres one sometimes finds on very ancient buildings, like the parish church of Sant Vincenç in Sarrià, or the Monastery Church at Pedralbes. Then there are the bizarre, white-painted spiderweb lamps around the Arc de Triomf at the Parc de la Ciutadella. Just as when considering its sidewalk surfaces, there are multiple ways that Barcelona has considered and addressed the question of how to light the way for its residents.

8 thoughts on “Barcelona in the Details Part II: Streetlights

  1. Hi William. I was googling for the ‘Font de Canaletes’ and came across your blog…it turned out i got to learn a lot more of the streetlights of barcelona. I am a barca fan and dream of one day going to barcelona. Hopefully that dream comes true one day. A beautiful write up i must add.


  2. Thanks so much, Volney! I write about Barcelona-related things frequently here, but you may also be interested in visiting my other blog where I am cataloging all of the historic and interesting churches in the city. Visca el Barca!!!


  3. Pingback: Crazy Barcelona | A Sydney food blog In Australia that writes about her culinary experiences in and out of the kitchen - Jeroxie

  4. Thank you for the post on street lamps… I was trying to find out anything about the Passeig Gracia street lights, in order to caption photos I made of them, to be included in a letter to a blacksmith friend; you summed it up for me perfectly! (I would love to find a good resource devoted to the blacksmiths of Barcelona; and particularly the metalworkers used by Gaudi.)
    My first visit was just a month ago now, and it was just far too short, at 7 days…! So much to soak up and admire in the architecture, etc. A city in love with ornament; the fantastic ironwork all over town was a major highlight of the visit, for me…


      • It does seem like Gaudi’s shadow tends to eclipse some of the other equally inventive, creative and talented architects of the era. I recall Jujol’s name in conjunction with a few Gaudi projects. It sounds like he (Jujol) was quite a talented architect in his own right — I will have to add his buildings to my “next time” visit; some interesting-sounding ones appear to be not far from Barcelona, such as Sant Joan Despí and La Secuita. I did a quick search online about him, but can’t find mention that he himself was a working blacksmith, vs. an architect…?


      • He was certainly a designer of metal objects – for example the iron balconies on La Pedrera – but whether he worked on them himself is a good question. I would imagine he did, at least to some extent.


      • From what I’ve read so far in some of the guide books I brought home with me, it seems very likely the architects (Gaudi & Jujol, etc.) would’ve been very familiar with the work and capacities of the smiths they contracted, and also likely involved closely in the fabrication processes of those smiths. But from what I know of blacksmiths working today, a good smith would also bring much of their own creativity and style to the work naturally, not necessarily just slavishly executing the architect’s drawing to the tiniest degree. I’d love to know if either of them ever swung the hammers at the anvil!


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