Of all the countries I have visited, Spain will forever hold a special place in my heart. On my most recent trip back to the sun-kissed country I once called home, I had the pleasure of revisiting one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions: The Sagrada Familia. Join me on a digital tour of this architectural wonder. ¡Vamos!
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, where Catalan is an official language. Thus, the full name of the Sagrada Familia in Catalan is Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. In Spanish, the church is called El Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, and in English, The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family. Because it’s quite a mouthful in any language, this behemoth of a basilica is usually just referred to as La Sagrada Familia.
A CATHEDRAL UNDER CONSTRUCTION
In 1882, the first stone of the Sagrada Familia was set in position, laying the foundation for a construction project that has spanned five generations. The Sagrada Familia is scheduled to be completed in 2026 to correspond with the centennial year of the death of Antoni Gaudí, a great Catalan architect and the genius mastermind behind the basilica. #MiraclesRequired
Although the Sagrada Familia is his most famous structure, the delightful works of Gaudí are spread across 19th century Barcelona. [Sidenote: His mansions, like Casa Battló and Casa Milà, are really worth a visit!] Later in his career, Gaudí often fashioned his creations after the shapes and geometric patterns found in the natural world, and he employed ground-breaking innovations in construction design. The Sagrada Familia is the epitome of Gaudí’s creative approach to architecture: difficult but not impossible, elaborate yet profoundly simple, reverent and deeply symbolic.
THE NATIVITY FACADE
We begin our tour with the Nativity Facade, the only side of the cathedral that was completed during Gaudí’s lifetime. It is opulent and joyful, fluid and detailed, full of movement and imagery. This side of the building has three portals that feature the birth of Jesus, the faith of Mary, and the hope of Joseph – as well as a cast of creatures from the natural and heavenly worlds. Rising high above the clamor of the city streets, the tree of life crowns the central portal, standing between the sentinel towers of the Apostles.
One thing that makes a visit to the Sagrada Familia so fascinating is to see how it changes over time. For example, I was drooling over the bronze doors of the Nativity Façade, which were installed in 2014-2015, seven years after my first visit to the basilica. Designed by Japanese sculptor, Etsuro Sotoo, these giant metal doors are incredibly delicate, featuring the whimsical delights of nature – a dove nestled in the roses, brightly colored insects roaming over leaves and flowers, lush ivy stretching seven meters high.
AN AWE-INSPIRING INTERIOR
Passing through the Nativity portals, you step into a world defined by vast spaces and bright colors. The large columns pull your eyes upward towards the vaulted arches of the nave, a splendid display of architectural singularity. In fact, the branching columns and hyperbolic vaults were of Gaudi’s original design, meant to mimic trees and a forest canopy. Vibrant splashes of light pierce this wondrous space and add a lively element to the church’s interior.
Although still under construction, the basilica is a functioning place of worship. Mass is occasionally held in the main sanctuary, while other services are performed in the crypt, where Gaudí himself is buried. The architect was adamant that every part of the church should have access to natural light, and he designed the crypt windows to stretch above the ground floor so that worshipers below could also see the sun’s rays.
THE PASSION FACADE
Leaving the magnificent sanctuary and exiting through the western doors, visitors are faced with an austere and sombre sight. The Passion Facade is full of hard angles, stark images, and straining scenes – all designed to evoke the pain and suffering of Jesus’ final moments on earth. The doors themselves tell the story of the Passion of Christ, actual text from the Gospel of John written in Catalan.
A VIEW FROM ABOVE
For an additional fee, visitors can go up the towers of the Sagrada Familia. I got a bird’s eye view of Barcelona and a different look at the basilica from the Nativity Towers.
The Sagrada Familia is a live construction zone. Scaffolding and cranes are an inextricable part of the scenery – at least for another decade. Yet, the basilica is growing and construction on the central tower has begun in earnest.
The final portion of the Sagrada Familia is the Glory Facade, which is barely more than a few column stubs and rebar now. I cannot wait to see this superstructure when it is complete!
In all reality, neither words nor photographs can capture the breathtaking resplendence of the Sagrada Familia. The Audio Tour concludes with a wonderfully succinct and beautifully accurate description of this remarkable place: The Sagrada Familia is “a unique expression of the Christian faith rendered in stone.”
Truly, there is nothing else like it in the world. I hope our digital tour featuring select scenes of the Sagrada Familia will encourage you to place this magnificent place on your Travel Bucket List!
Hola amigos! Have you ever been to La Sagrada Familia? If so, when? Has it changed much since you visited? Is Barcelona and a tour of the Sagrada Familia on your Travel Bucket List? What are your impressions of the basilica? Are you like me in wanting a set of those Nativity doors for yourself?