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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Photo Gallery: Cadiz

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Here are some additional pictures of our visit to Cadiz in 2009.

Hungry cats find a friend.
Hungry cats find a friend.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the cathedral.
The pulpit inside the cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz. It is still an active church with regular services.
The pipe organ
The pipe organ
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
In the catacomb below the cathedral
In the catacomb below the cathedral
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Our cruise ship in the distance.
Our cruise ship in the distance. Beyond is the mainland of Spain.

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The Cats of Cadiz

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Cadiz, Spain was the third port of call on the trans-Atlantic cruise we took in April 2009. It lies along the coast of Spain  on the Atlantic about 150 kilometres from Gibraltar (119 km via the inland route), not quite two thirds of the way from Portugal to Gibraltar. It lies on a narrow spit of land, a peninsula, jutting out from the mainland to enclose a large bay, though it looks more like an island connected by a causeway to the mainland.

The city is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It is the capital of the province of Cadiz and is part of the autonomous region of Andalusia.

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The Port of Cadiz

The port is on the sheltered side of the peninsula on the North end. This is adjacent to the Old Town, the walled part of the city. This part has preserved much of its ancient heritage and differs significantly from the more modern city outside the walls with its narrow cobblestone streets and small shops. But even in the modern part of the city, all buildings are fairly small as Cadiz sits on a sandspit, making the sinking of the foundations necessary to support highrises prohibitively expensive.

As with all ports of call, we had an option to take one of several excursions, including one to the inland city of Seville, but we opted to explore on our own. And we are glad we did. The Old Town is not very large and you can explore much of it during a stopover.

The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area.
The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area. This photo taken from the modern city side looking towards the Old Town. There are few vehicles in Old Town as the streets are narrow.

We left the port and followed the road along the wall separating it from the newer part of the city to the side  of the peninsula facing the open sea.

The short walk across the peninsula to the ocean took us to a steep sea wall with walk along the top. Part of the sea wall was overgrown with shrubs and we spotted cardboard boxes and other bits of debris here and there. We were surprised to find that these were home to a couple of dozen feral cats.

This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls.
This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls. The modern part of Cadiz can be seen in the background beyond the fortress.

As we watched the cats, they started running up the wall towards the ledge at the top. A man was approaching and calling to them. As they circled around him, he opened a couple of shopping bags and pulled out tins of cat food which he opened. He spread the cat food out in glops along the ledge and the cats had a feast. He also replenished their water bowls.

This is one of the pleasures of exploring a port of call on your own. You sometimes run into the unexpected and so it was with the cats. After the man finished feeding them, he cleaned up and headed off and so did we.

It wasn’t long before we came to a Roman theatre. This archaeological work was not discovered until 1980 when a warehouse fire destroyed the buildings sitting on top of it. The theatre, the second largest Roman theatre in the world after the one in Pompeii, is still being restored to this day. Roman theatres are different than Roman amphitheatres. Roman theatres are semi-circles and much smaller than the amphitheatres which are full circles enclosing a large area where sporting events and games were held. The Coliseum in Rome is an amphitheatre.

Roman theatre in Cadiz
Roman theatre in Cadiz
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.

We asked Anna, the woman at the ticket booth, about the cats and she said they were much revered in Cadiz because they kept the rats out. People often feed them she said.

After checking out the theatre we decided to check out the white tower we saw behind it. That turned out to be part of Cadiz Cathedral.

One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.
One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1722 and continued for 116 years. It started out in the baroque style, but because it took so long to build, there are also rococo and neoclassical elements. The building was undergoing extensive restoration and repair work when we were there but still open to the public.

The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz

It is beautiful inside with the ornate woodwork and statuary you’ll find in most Roman Catholic cathedrals. It also had a magnificent pipe organ and below the cathedral was a catacomb with numerous plaques and tombs.

The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.

We wanted to pick up a few odds and sods before returning to the ship so we crossed through the gates in the huge stone wall surrounding the Old Town and made our way along some tree lined boulevards to a shopping mall. From there we walked back to the ship along the port road, passing by an extensive rail yard as we went. Spain has an excellent railroad system which we would use later when we travelled from Barcelona to Figueres. But that is a story for a later blog post!

The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain's efficient rail network.
The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain’s efficient rail network.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to Cadiz, a charming little city by the sea.

Additional Photos

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