The distinctively surreal, shifting and melting forms of the Sagrada Familia are a quintessential part of Barcelona and its skyline. Along with six other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most popular tourist monuments in Spain. Although incomplete, back 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. The construction started in 1882, and this building is, perhaps, the fullest expression of Gaudí’s distinctive combination of the elements of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles.

Gaudí worked on the project up until his death. He worked there so fanatically to the extent that on his death in 1926 (he was hit by a tram) he was so disheveled, he was mistaken as a homeless person and received no medial attention. Now, he is buried beneath the temple. On the matter of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have mentioned that “his client (God) was 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 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. The temple is planned to be completed in 2026, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death.

The current 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, symbolizing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Also, three façades are planned: the Nativity façade to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South.

The Nativity façade was mostly built during Gaudí’s lifetime and best represents his influence and style. The Passion façade impacts the viewer with its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ crucified, by Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory façade began construction in 2002 and is the centerpiece of the three. This one represents 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 and fascinating as the outside. Made of a Latin cross with five aisles, the vaults of the central nave rare forty-five meters high and the vaults of the side nave vaults reach thirty meters. The central vault reaches sixty meters high, and the apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching seventy-five meters, 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 the church is open. At this moment, visitors can access the nave, the crypt, the museum, the shop, and the Passion and Nativity towers. Entering is an incredible experience all day, but mostly during the sunset, when the light shines through its spectacular windows. Check the official website of the Sagrada Familia for more information, to plan your visit and to book your tickets in advanced.

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