La Sagrada Familia, the grandiose basilica (mostly) designed by Antoni Gaudi, has become the symbol of Barcelona, and that’s not a stretch by any means: both have been growing and evolving over the decades. And, for La Sagrada Familia, at least, that journey will end in the next decade (target: 2026) as it is expected to be finished by the end. Gaudi’s masterpiece needs no introduction, though perhaps some background info could not hurt. There is no justice I can do both to its story and to how it looks and feels in person. So this post is meant to deliver, as well as photos can, eye-candy on this masterpiece of architecture, construction, and faith…
Backdrop on La Sagrada Familia
Gaudi was brought in to complete the design of the basilica early on in the project (a year into the project). He continued working on it until his death in 1926 (hence targeting 2026 as the year for its completion) but, at the time he died, the basilica was only a fifth to a quarter done. Initially, there had been opposition to it but certainly it has become iconic, almost legendary. Its construction has been slow because it was funded through donations, and the Spanish Civil War also disrupted the effort in the 1930s. To me, it is a marvel of imagination and creativity. It would not surprise me to hear someone say it is ‘too much.’ But despite its eclectic designs/features, it feels elegant, not overwhelming. If it were not for the tourists meandering and talking, it could be -more importantly- a place for contemplation or quiet prayer. I sure hope there are/will be times when it will be closed to tours/visits though I do not know how they really could control people going in to pray versus to admire (read, gawk) the building and snap photos endlessly… like I did!! #confession
The basilica’s design
Gaudi’s designs were lost in a fire though some of the designs were re-constructable from other artifacts available that captured what Gaudi was planning. However, that does not mean that what we see today is exactly Gaudi’s vision: other architects over the decades have left their imprint on the design as the work progresses and new techniques/technologies have become available. It is hard to imagine, for example, that Gaudi could have laid out the lighting design given how much illumination know-how and technology have changed since the first quarter of the 20th century… I am no architect, no designer, no artist but below is my layman’s recollection of the plan of the basilica and some opinions…
The spires (towers) of La Sagrada Familia
The general concept of the design includes an array of spires or towers: a high tower representing Jesus Christ and four secondary towers representing each of the evangelists (John, Mark, Matthew and Luke) and another for the Virgin Mary. The remaining spires will represent the twelve apostles.
The three façades of La Sagrada Familia
The basilica has or will have three large façades: the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory. This latter one is to be the most grandiose of the three and is currently under construction. Its completion will require the demolition of the building block that faces it across the street as it will have a large staircase leading up to it but, no worries, people knew these were the plans since early on, probably before current residents were born!
The Nativity façade was the first one built and it was completed in Gaudi’s time so it is most connected to his vision. The façade struck me as very connected with nature, with animals and floral type of arrangements noticeable; the scene is both peaceful and elaborate. Of course, the Holy Family is at the center of it.
The Passion façade definitely conveys sadness and angst, as the Passion of Christ would instill: the figures are angular and emoting their feelings on stone in a sparsely decorated space – brilliant and moving, and a clear contrast to the Nativity façade.
The basilica’s grand interior – behold!
The inside of the basilica cleverly plays on light. On the west side of the interior, with red and associated colors created by the stained glass on the side of the Passion façade. On the opposite side across the aisle, are the greens and blues that feel cooler and happier: the side of the Nativity façade. The columns seem to fly up to hold the roof of the sanctuary and feel like trees holding up a canopy. And, it takes effort to notice but the shape of the columns evolves as the column rises: a square base may morph to a circular cross-section after passing through an octagon shape, for example. To me, the highest ceiling is a visual contrast with its modern feel versus the traditional walls at the end of the apses/naves with their big stained glass windows and other more traditional motifs.
Looking up reveals an impressively designed, symmetric and yet not overwhelming ceiling…
Finally, the altar is simple in the extreme – a sharp contrast to the ceiling and side walls of the basilica. The space feels cavernous by the height of the ceiling, the long tree-like columns and the emptiness in the altar area. But that cavernous feeling is counter-balanced with the colors and light that is cleverly used in opposition (or, at least, I assume the opposition was planned for…) around the outer walls.
How to visit La Sagrada Familia
There are several ways to visit and several things to see in La Sagrada Familia. From a basic unguided entry ticket at 15 euros (as of this writing), to an audio-guided visit for 22 euros, to going all the way to the top for 29 euros, there is a price point and scope of visit for everyone. Sadly, going up was not available the day I visited so I was deprived of the experience of going up and taking in the views from above. However, we did do a pre-purchased guided tour through a local tour agency located across the square from the basilica which secured us an entry time, a guide (in Spanish in our case since it was easier for my Mom), and avoiding any lines to enter the basilica. The tour included visiting the basement of the basilica which has several exhibits. One of the most interesting items is the exhibit which shows hanging chains which upside-down show the structure of the basilica as it elliptical or curvy inner structures are well modeled by gravity. I may not be explaining this well but it is a clever tool for the architect. In any case, the basement also shows photos of the basilica being built over the decades – all fascinating stuff. Dedicate time to this visit and soak it all in!
Pin this to your travel board!