It is the longest architectural project in history and has been called one of the most spectacular buildings ever created.
A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Barcelona exploring the works of Antoni Gaudi. I visited Palau Guell, Casa Mila and Park Guell as further detailed in this post here. While all those projects were amazing, the highlight was visiting Gaudi’s famous Roman Catholic church – La Sagrada Familia.
Construction on La Sagradi Familia began in 1882. More than 130 years later, it is still under construction! I first visited the church almost 14 years ago in 2001 and I remember they were working on the towers and the inside was not yet open to the public.
La Sagrada Familia is located in the neighbourhood of Exiample in Barcelona. Its location on the map can be deceiving. Although it looks fairly close and within walking distance from downtown on the map, it is actually quite far. The hotel concierge recommended that I take a cab or the subway to the church. It was very easy to get to by subway, with the subway stop bearing the same name as the church.
The guidebook recommended that visitors get there early to avoid the line-ups. I set my alarm and got there early at 8:45am in the morning, 15 minutes before opening. I suppose others had the same idea as by that time, a line had already started forming around the block. Thankfully, the line moved pretty fast.
Upon arriving, you are immediately awestruck at the sheer size and magnitude of the church. There are 3 facades to the church – the Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade, both complete, and the Glory Facade which is still under construction. Each facade has 4 towers, with each tower representing a different apostle. It is anticipated that the Glory Facade, along with the rest of the church, will be complete in 2026, over 144 years since construction first started! Once complete, La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world.
The Nativity Facade
This facade is adorned with unique sculptures, which give it the “melted wax” look. It is the only part of the church that was built while Gaudi was still alive:
The sculptures include various representations from the Bible relating to the birth of Jesus:
As you walk around the church, you can see the tone and mood of the sculptures changing.
On the other side of the church is the Passion Facade.
In sharp contrast to the Nativity Facade and its “melted wax” sculptures, the Passion Facade, with its sharp lines, and bone-like columns, represents the death of Jesus. There are various representations from the Bible, including the Last Supper, Jesus carrying the cross, and the crucifixion.
The doors include texts of the gospels of Matthew and John, which recount the last days of Jesus’ life:
The interior of the church is adorned with beautiful skylights, stained glass windows, and massive columns. Gaudi wanted the interior of the church to feel like being in a forest as he felt this is where people could feel closest to God. As you look up at the ceiling, you can seek the columns branching out like trees:
When I arrived at the ticket counter and asked for “un billet for pavor”, the attendant replied with something in Spanish. I had no idea what he said, so I just answered with “si”. I’m glad I said yes as he was asking me whether I also wanted to purchase a ticket to the tower.
You cannot climb up the stairs to the tower, you can only go up using an elevator. Once up in the tower, you get a beautiful view of Barcelona:
From the top, there are some very narrow and windy stairs down the tower:
There are various stops along the tower while walking down the stairs, where you get a closer view of the city:
You also get a better close-up view of the various sculptures on the church:
For more information on Gaudi and La Sagrada Familia, you can check out this excellent episode by CBS’ 60 minutes which profiles the history of construction of the church, as well as the many features of the church which make it an architectural marvel.
Thanks for reading!