The distinctively surreal, shifting and melting forms of the Sagrada Familia are a quintessential part of Barcelona and its skyline. Along with six other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, la Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such is the most popular tourist monument in Spain. Although incomplete, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in November 2010 it was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

To give it its full name, La Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família was designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Starting in 1883 the Sagrada Familia is perhaps the fullest expression of Gaudi’s distinctive combination of the elements of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles.

Gaudí worked on the project up until his death, at the end living on site and working so fanatically to the extent that on his death in 1926 (he was hit by a tram) he was so dishevelled he was mistaken as a tramp and received no medial attention. He is buried beneath the nave. On the matter of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have quipped, “My client is not in a hurry” and at the time of his death construction was only 25% complete.

Work was interrupted by his death and then by the Spanish Civil War when parts of the project were damaged by fire. After the Civil War funds were limited and construction only resumed properly after Franco’s death and the return to democracy. By 2010 construction passed the mid-point, with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining. A completion date of 2026 is planned to time with the centennial of Gaudí’s death.

The present design is based on reconstructed versions of plans lost in the Civil War as well as on modern adaptations. Though never intended to be a cathedral (the seat of a bishop), the Sagrada Família was planned to be a cathedral-sized building. Gaudí’s original design called for no less than eighteen spires, symbolising in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. As of 2010 only eight spires have been built corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade.

Three façades are planned: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed).

The Nativity Façade was mostly built during Gaudi’s lifetime and bears the most direct Gaudí influence. The Passion façade impacts the viewer with its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures Christ crucified, by Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory façade began construction in 2002 and will perhaps be the centrepiece of the three and will represent the soul’s ascension to God as well as scenes such as Hell, Purgatory, and the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.

Inside the church plan is as irregular a the outside and leaves the visitor dizzy. Made of a Latin cross with five aisles, the vaults of the central nave rare forty-five metres high and the vaults of the side nave vaults reach thirty metres. The central vault reaches sixty metres high and the apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching seventy-five metres, creating a sense of loftiness, space and light that is quite different to the dark interiors of so many cathedrals. None of the interior surfaces are flat, and ornamentation consists of abstract shapes with smooth curves and jagged points.

Being a work in progress not all of the church is open. At this moment visitors can access the Nave, Crypt, Museum, Shop, and the Passion and Nativity towers.

See the official Sagrada Familia website for more information and to plan your visit.