The four-petaled almond flower became, over the last century, one of the beloved symbols of the city of Barcelona. First used by a Modernist architect for the house of chocolatier Antoni Amatller, in reference to the owner’s name, the tile design spread, soon, all over the city.
Millions of flowers now cover its sidewalks and many of the iconic creations, made in Barcelona, use this specific pattern.
The word for the walkways pavement tile is panot and the people of Barcelona consider it as an icon and part of their identity. One of the most popular panots, and the one you’ll probably notice the most, is the Flor de Barcelona, a design that has become an urban symbol around the city. This panot was introduced in 1926 and it’s known for being the main tile in L’Eixample.
A tiny interior design element of an exquisite house, Casa Amatller, led to the now-emblematic aesthetic symbol of Barcelona’s largest neighbourhood and the entire Catalan Modernista (or the specifically Catalan style of Art Nouveau) movement itself.
Built for the famous chocolate-producing family Amatller, by Modernist architect Puig i Cadafalch in 1900, the house features an entryway paved with small stones with the form of a four petal shape, engraved on their surface.
This was only one of the many elements of a spectacular work of architecture and design, including floral references everywhere: on the stained glass ceiling above the staircase, on the walls decorated with sgraffito, or on the custom made lighting objects (images above).
Today, La Flor de Barcelona is one of the most visible icons of the Modernist era. There are at least 13 different tiles around the city, and every one of them was designed by different and important Catalan architects including Antoni Gaudí.
Those and many other architects worked with Casa Escofet, a construction company that won a bid held by the City Hall back in 1916. They’ve been paving Barcelona ever since.
Places to Go Tile Spotting
The district of Eixample (the Extension) may look like a maze but it was actually designed to be a garden. And its wide sidewalks are paved with all variations of panots, including the floral pattern.
The best place to start a tile route is right where its story began, meaning at Casa Amatller, on Passeig de Gràcia. From there, all the streets have various designs. Walking towards Universitat de Barcelona will unfold many of the historical designs, while heading down to la Rambla allows you to enjoy the tile especially designed for this promenade – el vibrazo, by architect Adolf Florensa.
Places to Go Shopping Tiled Designs
Souvenirs and designs from Marsalada
Marsalada Design is a shop dedicated to special souvenirs 100% made in Barcelona and designed by an architect. Here you can find a special print on wood reinterpreting, in an original manner but within the same dimensions and guidelines, the original Flor de Barcelona.
Leather bags from Calpa
Calpa Barcelona specialises in stunning leather works with the pattern of Flor de Barcelona, among others. They also have designs including the iconic hexagonal design for panots created by Gaudí.
Chocolate from Enric Rovira
Enric Rovira created the series of chocolate with the Flor de Barcelona pattern but, also, as chocolate artist, he is known for eccentric pieces of big dimensions, up to 6 meters high and 400 kg weight, that have been manufactured for institutions like Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona or the European Space Agency, private individuals and restaurants like Ferrán Adrià’s elBulli.
Historical Context of the panots
To understand the importance and trajectory of panots, the decorative concrete slabs used to pave much of Barcelona’s sidewalks, one must step back to a period between 1834 and 1860 when the city was still enclosed by high stone walls and the population of Ciutat Vella was so dense that epidemics killed off about three percent of the population with each outbreak. Something had to be done, so in 1854 the city began tearing down the old wall and announced that they were holding a contest for urban planning proposals to expand Barcelona and bring it into the modern, industrial age. The City Hall’s contest was won by Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer, Catalan engineer, urbanist, economist, and politician. Originally entitled Plan Cerdà, the proposal, launched in 1859, sought to expand the city with the new area of the Eixample, the Extension.
Above all, Cerdà wanted the Eixample to provide space for people to breathe, with 45-degree-angled corners at every street intersection, and interior gardens to be shared by neighbours. His grid pattern further sought to eliminate status and create an egalitarian community with space for workers and wealthy alike. However, this mission was lost to the grandiose works of Gaudí, Domènech i Muntaner, and Puig i Cadafalch, among others, who were commissioned to build homes by Barcelona’s elite. Their spectacular buildings branded the zone in the vicinity of Passeig de Gràcia as the high-rent district and property prices throughout the area were impacted by their proximity to the opulent avenue.
In 1907, the Barcelona City Hall began accepting bids for the paving contract of this rapidly growing neighbourhood. The bid was won by the company Escofet-Tejera y Cía, whose catalogue of products featured contributions by the most famous designers of the times (Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner, and Puig i Cadafalch, among them).
The City Hall also included 18 design ideas for the city’s paving stones in their project outline, from which came the 6 main patterns that we see today, including the Flower, now seen on everything from bags, purses, clothing, jewellery and chocolate bars to local business’ logos.
The paving initiative got underway in 1916, and over the last 100 years, the continuous development of Barcelona and the surrounding areas has led to over five million square metres of panots in the city. Besides the principle six, there are many other designs used throughout the urban environment for both aesthetic and functional purposes (such as the version with four raised bars that indicates pedestrian crossings and bus stops to the blind).
The paving tiles themselves are made from what is referred to as hydraulic cement, also known as Portland Cement, named for the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England, a region known for its limestone building stones.
A mixture of concrete, mortar, and stucco created in the 19th century, the cement was classified as hydraulic because of the material’s quality of extreme hardening through chemical reaction when mixed with water, which provided the strong, cheap, consistent product still used today. While Escofet-Tejera y Cía was the first, and sole, producer of these original paving stones, a handful of companies now share equally the task of producing the city’s six principle paving stones, plus many additional models for urban and suburban use.