When in Spain, I was left enchanted, by Barcelona; its illimitable culture, architectural treasures, towering temple columns and a world-class culinary scene. This seaside city is home to many ancient city walls, hidden stone corridors, Gothic designs, grand plazas and old cathedrals. Wherein, the art scene is dominated by the sculptural masterpieces of Gaudí and artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. You ‘simply’ cannot leave Barcelona until you have visited some of the museums and La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that summarises Gaudí’s unparalleled talent. The Roman Catholic Church of La Sagrada Família is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the office of the prevailing religious administrator.
When I first arrived here, I was floored by the cathedral’s steep verticality inciting wonder. The ongoing construction is assumed to be finished, by 2026, around the same time as this cathedral completes a hundred years of its architect’s death. The extraordinary craftsmanship, Gothic and curvilinear Nouveau artistic expressions and geometrically-precise designs are praiseworthy. Gaudí eschewed straight lines and decorated his towers with sharp outlines similar to that of the holy mountain Montserrat and also, finished it with a sculpture that appears to offshoot from the stone. Indeed, one of the most extraordinary Gothic architectures I have visited, to date.
Besides its unfinished state, La Sagrada sees over half a million visitors annually, making it Spain’s most visited monument. The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família had completely-filled Antoni Gaudí’s mind and attention. Initially, a conservative society expressed interest in building the temple as reparation to tackle the sins of modernity, Gaudí however, saw its finish only as an apostolic calling. When the money provided shrivelled, Gaudí added his own and pleaded to all suitable donors. In 43 years, Gaudí devised a 312 feet long and 197 ft broad temple, capable of seating above 13,000 people at one time.
He also created one 558 ft tall central tower over the Christ transept and 17 others with a height of 328 ft or more. The three grand façades designed by Antoni Gaudí depict Apostles, while the remaining five describe the Virgin Mary and the four evangelists. By the time Gaudí died, only the apse walls, the crypt, a portal and a tower, had been finished, however even unfinished, the church stirred an undeniable enchantment. In 1936 rebels destroyed the interiors, including many of Gaudí’s original models and in 1952, a renovation was initiated.
My tour guide went on to give me a virtual tour of the interiors, of all the luxurious facades. For an entrance fee of €33, you can escalate high inside the four towers by taking a sequence of escalations and spiral staircases. Here’s a summary of what I gathered.
Nativity Facade (Façana del Naixement) on the northeastern side is devoted to the birth of Christ, and this artistic zenith was built, under Gaudí’s supervision. Each element in this Facade is inspired by nature, starting with turtle inscriptions at the bottom of each column to the forest sculpture on the Charity Portal girdled with an ass, an ox and shepherds. (Also kings and angel musicians) Either side of the Facade is marked, by a chameleon, symbolic of change. The sun-facing Façana del Naixement is classified into three porticos, embodying faith, trust and charity. By 1930, additional towers were added, to the Nativity facade. The upper parts of these towers are embellished, with mosaics that spell ‘Sanctus, Hosanna in Excelsis, Amen, Alleluia’.
When asked, why Gaudí spent ‘excessively’ on the peaks of the spires, he answered, “The angels will see them.” The mosaic work is created, from Murano glass of Venice. These towers also carry tubular bells fitted to perform intricate music at raised volume. Three sections of the portal represent Hope, Charity and Faith from left to right. Over the blue stained glass window, you will notice the announcement of the incarnation by the angel Gabriel to Mary. The roof holds a leafy cypress tree, rendering as a storm shelter for the white doves of peace. Nearly 30 Spanish plant species are bred at La Sagrada Familia, wherein, the locals prepare the plaster cast faces of personages.
On the more-under right bottom, there is a sculpture of a reptilian-demon offering a worker a bomb, mirroring one of several temptations of humans.
The southwestern ‘Passion Facade’ is symbolic of Christ’s compassion and suffering, and is designed to echo last days and death of Jesus, hitting the onlookers with sadness. The triangular upper part of the Passion Facade resembles a pyramid in shape and is composed of 18 bone-shaped columns, forming a large cross with a crown of thorns. Following the remaining illustrations by Gaudí, the original construction of the Passion Facade began between 1954 and 1978, however, was officially finished in 2018 with its four towers and a massive sculpture-festooned portal.
Sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs worked his magic on Passion Facade between 1986 – 2006 who instead of imitating Gaudí, designed distinctive, pointed and bent forms of his own. The sculptures are scattered across three levels, in an S-shaped order, beginning with Last Supper at the bottom-left, crucified Christ at the top-centre and burial depictions at the top right.
Glory Façade is the largest of all, extending way to the central nave via a large staircase that leads you aloft the underground passage. Façana de la Glòria is dedicated to the celestial honour of Jesus, factoring Death, Final Judgment, and Glory. Inside Glory Portico, you will find 7-huge columns devoted to spiritualism. At the top of each column, are the inscriptions of 7 Heavenly Virtues, wherein, at the base, is the account of the 7 Deadly Sins. Glory Facade like its counterparts is crowned by four towers, a total of 12 depicting the Twelve Apostles. Inside, you will find Narthex, a kind of foyer made of 16-lanterns topped by cones. The remaining (under-construction) 5 towers symbolise the Virgin Mary and the four evangelists.
Next to Passion Facade, beneath the ground level, is Museu Gaudí, that will walk you through fascinating material on Gaudí’s life. Here you will get to see a re-creation of his office as it was, at the time, he died, along with, examples of the geometric patterns and plans of his building techniques. The eastern side-hall leads to the pane, where the artist is secreted!
The Church Mass held at the Neo-Gothic Crypt, can only be accessed, from Carrer de Sardenya, the oldest section of the building, largely-built by Gaudí’s predecessor. At Sagrada Familia, extravagant embellishments blend with abstract frames to serve as a reminiscence of the Latin Church era. Each element, whether it be, the iron railings running across the balconies or the grand stairways uniting two floors, is typical of Gaudí’s passion for details. The roof, too, is kept up by exceptional forested angled pillars, that branches out, somewhat like a forest awning.
In fact, even the stained glass windows were installed, keeping in mind, the course of sunlight streaming through the branches. When the sunlight hits the window, its red, blue, green and yellow coloured glass produces a mesmeric atmosphere. La Sagrada Familia is a site, that must be explored at leisure, however, make sure to not, wear transparent clothing, hats or low necklines when you arrive here, as these aren’t permitted, at the venue.