One of the main tourist attractions of Barcelona is the famous Sagrada Familia church which was designed by the great modernist architect Antoni Gaudi. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the common knowledge, Sagrada Familia is not considered a cathedral because the church does not contain the seat of a bishop. Its real title is minor basilica and Barcelona’s cathedral is La Seu (Catedral de Santa Eulalia), another important church, which is also one of the must-see attraction to be visited by tourists who spend a few days in the Catalan city.
Gaudi started working on it at the end of the 19th century but he never got to finish it, not during his lifetime and as matter of fact up until now it has not been actually finished yet. Until his death, Gaudi was the main architect and manager of the church. Since he worked a lot on the interior design of the Sagrada Familia, we can say that both Gaudi and the basilica are equally a significant part in the life of the city of Barcelona. Both can be considered as icons of the Catalan city. This is a reason why the huge project of the basilica is a must-see landmark.
Sagrada Familia exemplifies well the Modernista architecture. There is no shade of a doubt that it is one of the most interesting and unique churches in the world. It is visited by more than 2 million people every year, and this is just the number of tourists who go inside the church, there are many people who admire it just from outside without entering it at all, so the numbers are even higher.
The History of Sagrada Familia
At the beginning Sagrada Familia was designed by Lozano who imagined a Neo-Gothic church. After two years Antoni Gaudí received the work and made many significant changes to the design. Gaudi started to work on the Sagrada Familia in 1882 but the project is so massive that he could never get to finish it. After the famous architect’s death the construction of the church continued and it was not stopped until today, except for a short time during the Spanish Civil War. During this dark period some anarchists even tried to destroy the famous building by setting it on. In this fire most of the plans were burned, but fortunately not all of them.
The design of the Sagrada Familia is extremely unique, colourful and interesting. It is also quite abstract and due to this it is a good example to the Modernista architecture.
The Death of Gaudi
Like other great artists Gaudi died during working on his masterpiece. He was hit by an electric train near the Sagrada Familia in 1926. According to a legend, the accident took place because Gaudi was looking at the church and at its towers and not at the train tracks. Although it is a well known legend, there is no evidence that proves or confutes this story.
Finish of La Sagrada Familia
The construction of the Sagrada Familia was begun in the 19th century and it is not finished until today. The city of Barcelona would like to complete the work until 2026, which would be the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. This means that its building will take more time than the construction of the famous Great Pyramid in Egypt which was built for 20 years (bare in mind though that the construction of the Pyramids is estimated to be done by between 15-40 thousand workers).
What do you see in Sagrada Familia?
According to Gaudi’s plan, the church comprises 18 towers, only 8 of them have been completed. Each of these towers is in honour of an important character from the Christian mythology. The highest one will be built to honour Jesus himself, another one for Virgin Mary, twelve will symbolize the twelve apostles and additional four will symbolize the four Evangelists.
The main tower of La Sagrada Familia is planned to a height of 170 meters. With this height it will be the tallest spire in the world (the current record holder is the tower of Ulm Minster in Germany at the height of 161,5 meters). Gaudi deemed that a work made by a human being should not to greater than the creations of the God. For this reason, the total height of the tower would stand on “only” 170 meters – which would make it one meter less than Montjuic, which is Barcelona’s highest point.
Two of the eight completed towers can be visited (for additional fee), by climbing their 400 stairs. At the top of them, one can admire Barcelona from a bird’s eye view (for additional information – Visit the Sagrada Familia Towers). The glass mosaics on the top of the church are also very great and unique attractions. These mosaics have a practical role too because they help sailors to find home.
One can go not only to the top of the Sagrada Familia, but also under it – there it is possible to take a look at Gaudi’s crypt. Additionally, in the church there are many statues that exemplifies well the Modernista architecture.
The church will have three main façades: The Nativity facade – in western the side, The Passion facade – in the western side and the Glory facade to the southern side.
The Nativity facade, was designed by Gaudi and completed four years after his death. It tells the story of Jesus’ birth, and faces the rising sun as a symbol to that. According to Gaudi’s plans it’s supposed to be completely colored, but since the implementation of such a plan is highly expansive this part of the plan might not come to existence. Nevertheless, there is a small surface which was designed according to the original plan, so we can get a little sample from it.
There are three entries to the Nativity facade: “The Portal of Hope”, “The Portal of Mercy” and “The Portal of Faith”. These names refer to three of the main Christian virtues. In the case of “The Portal of Mercy”, the facial features of the characters are actually the faces of workers who contributed to the building of the Sagrada Familia.
The construction of the Passion facade has begun around 30 years after Gaudi’s death. This facade was built in the Neo-Gothic Modernista design which is an interesting combination of Gothic buildings and Picasso’s art. This facade was designed by Josep Maria Subirachs who wanted to follow Gaudi’s style. It face the setting sun as a symbol to the story of Jesus’ suffering, which it presents and includes the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, the stations of Via Dolorosa and the crucifixion of Christ. The passion facade is full of unique but grotesque characters that which were not accepted very enthusiastically by the citizens of Barcelona at the beginning.
The building of the Glory facade began in 2002. It is planned to be the biggest and most impressive one and will tell the story of Jesus’ ascension. This facade will be the main one, that leads to portico and unfortunately the model that Gaudi has laid out to it was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, which was the only period when the building of the church has ceases (the be renewed when the war was over). Part of the original model have survived and are being used in the current design of the facade.
Regarding the symbols on the facades of the church, these are related mainly to the Christian mythology. They include different animals and each of them has it’s own meaning. The chicken, for example, refers to the rooster’s crow during Jesus’ suffering. In addition to to his suffering, Christ’s birth is also reflected, by a bird, namely, the pelican. The turtle symbolizes the power and stability of the Christian values. The progress and development of Christianity is symbolized by the lizard.
The working tools symbolizes Saint Joseph who was Jesus’ adoptive father and worked as a carpenter. Another interesting fact about Saint Joseph is that his statue looks like Gaudi. This similarity is explained by some researchers with the respect that the workers who built to towards Gaudi.
Gaudi was inspired mainly by nature, he always admired it’s beauty. This is why in addition to the symbols of Christianity, one ca also admire symbols related to nature and natural phenomenons. For example, the interesting high pillars of the church are similar to trees, furthermore the pillar-holding turtle and tortoise symbolize the land and the sea.
Right by the church stands a small building designed by Gaudi in the Modernista style. It was originally built to serve as a school for workers’ children, but nowadays the office of the church is located in it. In the future a small part from it will be removed in order to gain space for the extension of the church, alongside with a block of few buildings from the Carrer de Mallorca (Mallorca st.) that will provide space for parts of the huge Glory facade.