La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain.
Although La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain is not on the list of the seven wonders of the modern world, it would certainly be a good candidate. The original construction began on March 19th, 1882 when the first cornerstone was laid and a remarkable journey began. 136 years later the construction still continues to complete the dream of architect Antoni Gaudi, who took over the role in 1883 until his untimely death in 1926.
The first time I ‘discovered’ La Sagrada Familia was the tail-end of a Mediterranean cruise, the final destination was the Catalan city of Barcelona, Spain and spending a day or two to take-in it’s sights seemed appropriate. Little did I know I would be captivated by a building, returning through the years to monitor it’s progress and even write my master’s thesis based around it and it’s architect, Antoni Gaudi.
The open-topped red bus, the tourist’s traditional mode of transport when visiting new cities, rounded a corner, and there it was (as the guide announced) La Sagrada Familia. Alighting at the next stop I stood transfixed opposite (what I later discovered was) the Nativity façade, looking like something out of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ with it’s soaring towers and decorated arches.
An abundance of scaffolding and several very tall cranes indicated that building work was still being carried out on this already magnificent structure. It only had eight towers, I say only because the original design called for eighteen towers, representing (in order of ascending height according to symbolic hierarchy) the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the Four Evangelists and in the center and tallest of all, Jesus Christ.
The Nativity façade was the first (of the four façades) to be built, completed (after Gaudi’s death) in 1933 and the St Barnabas Tower was the only one he actually saw completed. It was the only one currently open to the public and I naturally ascended, courtesy of a small elevator, to be rewarded with spectacular views over the east of Barcelona.
Descending the tower was not quite so easy. The steps were in the form of a spiral pattern but there was no inner handrail to hold onto or even stop you falling 180 feet down the hole in the middle.
In contrast to the Nativity façade, the Passion façade is very stark and represents the passion (pain, sacrifice and death) of Jesus Christ. Gaudi himself described the Passion façade as “hard, bare, and as of made of bone” and his design places the façade facing west and with it the days fading light casts shadows on the stark sculptures and enhances the symbolic solemnity of the already somber portico.
By the time of my second visit four years later, the Passion façade tower was open to the public and I was again able to ascend and view the work that had been completed to the upper levels since my last visit. Eight towers now rose into the Barcelona skyline and the rest were beginning to take shape behind them, eventually to rise up above them.
At this point it’s about time to reveal what the inside of this magnificent building looks like and I have to tell you the first time I stepped inside I was awestruck and totally blown away by the incredible interior architecture. Antoni Gaudí, widely known as ‘God’s architect’, integrated geometric patterns and shapes to bring nature indoors with columns looking like tall trees in a forest. The canopy overhead bathed in natural white light from the exterior and the walls a sea of colored light provided by stained glass windows which also accentuated the nature inspired design of the columns.
It’s a surreal experience and one that cannot help inspire you to feel at peace, perhaps you could argue it’s a feeling of spiritual peace and no doubt that is exactly what Gaudí intended. The design for the interior vault was invented by Gaudí and has no known typology, reaching a height of 45m and supported (as he described) by ‘tree-like’ columns and penetrated by multiple skylights allowing light to enter.
I’ve been back on several visits to La Sagrada Familia and each time there is something new to see as the construction continues apace towards what is anticipated to be it’s eventual completion. The date for the towers and majority of the church is set for 2026, which is 100 years following the death of it’s creator, God’s architect, Antoni Gaudí, The rest of the decorative features should be completed by around 2030 or 2032.
The Glory façade on Mallorca Street even at the time of writing is still being built and faces South. This was meant by Gaudi to be the main entrance and have a magnificent flight of steps across Carrer Mallorca with the traffic passing under them. However, since Gaudi’s time the surrounding area has changed and this would mean that the block of houses already built would have to be knocked down. Not something I see happening at this present time although I did read that remodeling plans of that area is being considered.
This entrance is to be a giant Portico with five doors and the now familiar bell towers, which in this instance will be dedicated to Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint James the older.
You will need to purchase a ticket to look around the inside of the building and the towers and to be able to choose a convenient time slot to ascend the towers you will need to book in advance either online or at the ticket office.
I have only just scratched the surface here, but hopefully at least whetted your appetite to learn more about this amazing building. Visit La Sagrada Familia website for current ticket prices and options and a more comprehensive view of the architecture and progress of this engineering marvel especially the aerial video. There are some excellent photos and several videos with examples explaining Helicoids, Ellipsoids, Hyperbolids and Paraboloids for the more technically inclined.
Of course nothing can compare or even adequately prepare you for viewing this wondrous building close up. There are more examples of Antoni Gaudí‘s work around Barcelona such as Park Güell and Casa Milà, however it’s La Sagrada Familia that is the real masterpiece. I highly recommend a visit to La Sagrada Familia if you happen to be in Barcelona for a day or so with some time to spare.