April 29, 2016

Gaudi’s Masterpiece: The Church of the Sagrada Familia




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Our 2009 trans-Atlantic cruise ended in Barcelona. We stayed three extra days there before flying back to Canada and covered a lot of ground in those three days.

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia. Its history goes back to Roman times. Situated on the Mediterranean coast, it is known for its warm climate, beautiful beaches, vibrant retaurants and entertainment and most of all, for its stunning architecture, particularly that of Antoni Gaudi, a pioneer of Catalan Modernism.

La Rotonda, an example of Catalan Modernism designed by Adolf Ruiz in 1906. It was a hotel and later served as a hospital. After being abandoned for a few years, it was completely refurbished as an office building in 2013.
La Rotonda, an example of Catalan Modernism designed by Adolf Ruiz in 1906. It was a hotel and later served as a hospital. After being abandoned for a few years, it was completely refurbished as an office building in 2013. This picture is from 2009.

After leaving the ship, Janis and I and our friends Chris and Sheila took a shuttle bus to our respective hotels, then met up for a walk around, before settling at a restaurant near the Sagrada Familia for lunch.

We have lunch in a plaza near the Sagrada Familia
We have lunch in a plaza near the Sagrada Familia

Construction on this famous church whose name means Holy Family started in 1882. The work continues to this day with completion expected in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or Church of the Holy Family, one of Antoni Gaudi's master works.
The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or Church of the Holy Family, one of Antoni Gaudi’s master works. This side of the church is called the Nativity Facade.

We first took a walk around the church, which is huge. The immense scope of the project can be seen from the drawing below. The brown parts are the elements finished so far. The white areas, including the mammoth central tower, are barely started.

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Diagram of the completed and uncompleted parts of the Sagrada Familia.

The text says: “Drawing of the church showing the completed part and the part that is still to be built. It will help you understand the scale of the work. When it is finished it will have 3 facades (alluding to the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory) and 18 towers (12 on the facades, dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, 1 to the Virgin Mary, and the highest one to Jesus).”

Four of the completed towers. Work continues on the structure.
Four of the eight completed towers. This side is called the Passion Facade.
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On this side of the church the sculptures are angular and fairly modern in style, on the other side, the Nativity Facade, the sculptures are more traditional.

Considering they plan to have it completed by 2026, they have got their work cut out for them. The half way point was reached in 2010, 128 years into the project. But the project was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War and went slowly for many years. With modern technology, the work has accelerated.

Piles of construction materials outside the church.
Piles of construction materials outside the church.

After walking around the outside we went in, first to see where work was continuing inside. We saw massive scaffolds many stories high, as well as artisans moulding giant cement and stone pieces that would eventually be hoisted into place.

Huge scaffolding inside the church as work continues.
Huge scaffolding inside the church as work continues. The video below captures even more of the vastness of the project.

After touring the construction zone, we went through an exhibit explaining Gaudi’s style. One of the fascinating elements of Gaudi’s work is his love affair with nature. Themes like giant pieces of fruit, honeycombs, spirals, roosters, a giant turtle supporting a column and so on, abound. Not to mention that the entire church looks like it is a sandcastle with glops of sand dripping off it.

Heaps of fruit atop some pinnacles at the Sagrada Familia
Heaps of fruit atop some pinnacles at the Sagrada Familia

Then another walk around outside to where we could go up the completed towers themselves. We took an elevator up one tower and exited high above the city.  The towers soar above the street level offering a fabulous view of Barcelona. And everywhere – work continues.

Looking down to the street from the walkway between the towers of the Nativity Facade
Looking down to the street from the walkway between the towers of the Nativity Facade

After wandering around up in the open air high above the city, we went still higher up the spiral staircase in another tower. These giant shafts are layered with scalloped lookout holes.

Looking out at the city through one of the scalloped windows in one of the towers.
Looking out at the city through one of the scalloped windows in one of the towers.

Then down to the basement for an exhibit of models Gaudi used in designing the church. Some of these models are a good size in themselves.

Janis and I in front of a model of the entranceway to the Passion Facade
Janis and I in front of a model of the entranceway to the Passion Facade

Without a doubt, the Sagrada Familia is the must-see sight in Barcelona. Even if you don’t tour inside, you must at least walk around this massive edifice. It is nothing short of spectacular. You’ll find a link to an additional photo gallery after this video from the Sagrada Familia website. The video shows a speeded up version of some of the construction so far followed by an animation of the construction yet to be done, ending on the completed structure planned for 2016.


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