On our travels I am always fascinated by the history and stories that hide inside medieval churches, historic mansions or magnificent forts. Tales of kings and queens, legends of heroes or stories of common people hiding in portraits by celebrated artists. Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece is no exception. His fanaticism to his faith led him to create his life’s finest work. Being an obsessive detail oriented person myself, I was mesmerized by his attention to detail, and his passion to tell a story through his work. I fell in love with the madness that went behind building this Gothic cathedral, Gaudi’s vision, and his work.
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is the most visited site in Barcelona. Every travel book recommends it as the #1 site to visit in the city…so what is so special about this building?
First, the genius architect Antoni Gaudi’s accidental death left his dream project incomplete which adds a certain tragedy and mystery to this site. He was run over by a tram and died poor and penniless with no recognition for his work. Second, Gaudi knew that he would never finish his dream project in his lifetime and envisioned it to be completed by future architects, therefore his elaborate cathedral has been under construction since the 13th century which means it’s an ever-growing and changing monument with fascinating stories, controversies and secrets. And third, it took 16 years for architects to put together the tattered pieces of Gaudi’s drawings and models which were once burned by revolutionaries a few hundred years ago…Intriguing? Sure! This building has so many stories and so much history that one could make a movie on it. Maybe I should approach Hollywood with this idea…hmmm!
Sagrada Familia will be the world’s tallest church once completed. The sheer verticality and size of this structure blew our minds, looking up will make you dizzy. It’s quite unique looking, almost ugly at first but the beauty of this basilica lies in the details. Discovering the meaning behind each detail is like uncovering the plot and secrets of a mystery novel.
We’ve come across many religious buildings on our travels like the Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque in Abu Dhabi, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Tian Tan or Big Buddha in Hong Kong, Akshardham in Delhi, India and one idea becomes clearer and clearer with each trip – Spirituality feeds creativity. Have you ever wondered why some of the worlds most beautiful buildings are houses of worship? It’s interesting how we humans build giant monuments and temples to please some being we don’t even know exists. Or our need to create a beautiful space where the sole purpose is introspection and connection with one’s beliefs. I digress, but Antonio Gaudi’s masterpiece is also inspired by spirituality in the form of Christianity and his connection with nature.
Stepping inside this church felt like being transported to a magical rain forest. Tall white columns soaring high impersonating giant trees, star patterns on the ceilings representing the heavens, the spirals of the sea shells in the stairways, nodules in tree barks and branched tree like columns reaching the ceiling, shapes of fruits and flowers adorn the walls and glow in the soft colorful hues of the stain glass windows creating an alluring psychedelic experience. It’s a magical place created to unite one with God and nature, but alas the fantasy of this church has become the musings of the thousands of tourists who pollute its purity with camera flashes and continuous chatter. Unfortunately, I am part of this group – Sorry Gaudi, you became famous but your church paid the price for it.
The facade of the Basilica narrates the story of Christ and portrays biblical scenes through some of the most powerful sculptures. The 3 facades represent significant events in Christ’s existence – Birth and passion, death and resurrection, and his present and future glory.
The Nativity facade is the most famous and it’s known as one of Gaudi’s most significant accomplishments. It’s appalling at first but the closer you look and try to see what Gaudi intended, the more your mind will be blown away. The stone almost feels alive fused with sculptures of flying birds, crawling reptiles, twisting tree vines, angels and biblical characters, all of which seem to be dripping down from heaven – Telling a story of faith – the birth of Christ, the holy trinity, the immaculate conception, the star of Bethlehem, the three wise men, the nativity scene, the shepherds…it’s all there! All the Christmas carols I learnt in my convent school came to life on this giant piece of stone.
There are 18 towers, all of which have a christian symbolism and a specific meaning of course. The center tower of Jesus is surrounded by the 4 towers of the gospels, 12 towers for the 12 apostles and one for virgin Mary with a star as its crown. Writing this is taking me into one of Dan Brown’s books on christian symbolism and iconography. Any Dan Brown fans in the house? You know what I mean 🙂
This building is storytelling at its best and no amount of words I write or photos I post will do justice to this beautiful work of art. I recommend you to go there with an open mind, observe, understand and try to make sense of it on your own before hopping on to a tour. This building is art and you as the spectator can interpret it in your own way, although Gaudi’s way is pretty badass.
When to visit – We recommend visiting in the late afternoon on a clear day when the sun is making its way down. The sun should be at a good angle between 4pm-6pm to light up those beautiful stain glass windows. It’s beautiful anytime of the day of course but late afternoons are best for those interested in capturing the light. Morning or evening it’s gonna be crowded. Do not expect to have this site all to yourself.
Towers – we skipped climbing up the towers for the view, long lines and additional ticket cost did not appeal to us. Park Guell offers a great vantage point with beautiful views of the city, and the best part – Sagrada familia is part of the view. The 1st photo in this post is from that vantage point.
Book tickets online – You can book your tickets online here. We recommend getting them a few days to a week in advance if you want to skip the lines. Get the audio tour and enjoy uncovering the mystery and history behind this Unesco World Heritage site
For a detailed Barcelona itinerary, check out our blog post on “How to spend 4 days in Barcelona”
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