Many people ask me: “Why Barcelona? Why do I have such an extreme infatuation with this city and continuously dabble about it?”
Well, here’s the answer.
Two years back, I came across this, ‘not sure how to describe’, but yet captivating building on my friend’s Facebook page. It captured my attention immediately and tiny trickles of curiosity began to fill inside of me. For several days, I could not stop thinking about it. I started reading up on this building and it had a great impact on me right after. Unsure if it was just a fling of temptation or if it was a kind of déjà vu, the idea of the thought of seeing this place did haunt me like a ghost (minus the scary part); the silhouette of the building continued to spook me endlessly.
Then the craziest, most impromptu decision kicked in. I purchased my first solo-flight to Barcelona. Without any idea of how to speak the local language nor even the logistical planning needed in this foreign land, this was to be my first, furthest ever, coldest ever, solo adventure trip of my life. As it took off, the birth of my passion for travel started.
Pending to be crowned as ‘Europe’s tallest religious building’ upon completion, the mesmerising Sagrada Família is finally in its final stage of makeover after a decade long construction. Upon completion, it will surpass the current tallest cathedral, Ulm Minister, a Lutheran Church in Ulm, Germany as the Champion of Height. The cathedral would be also be the most elaborate and extensively intriguing neo-gothic style monastery in Europe.
Clothed with neo-gothic and art nouveau facades, this iconic skyline of Barcelona is seated at the centre of the popular neighbourhood called Eixample. Regardless day or night, the Sagrada Família is always beautiful in its own charisma with unique Gaudí’s cryptographic and architectural flair. Its dizzying yet majestic height can be seen from afar all across Barcelona, thus there is no way you are going to miss it!
The founder of today’s Sagrada Família was a humble Catalan bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella I Verdaguer.
Having travelled to the Vatican in 1872, Josep was greatly inspired by their exquisite Roman-Catholic architectural styles. He then decided to build a Cathedral upon his return to Barcelona. Through fundings by investors and donations, he engaged an architect in 1882, Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano to design and erect the Sagrada Família. After about a year of service, Villar resigned in 1883 and the then well-sought after and today’s world-known architect, Antoni Gaudí, took Villar’s place and spent most of his life working on this stunning project.
Spiritedly injecting his own visualisation and concept into the Sagrada Família, Gaudí, the brainchild of modern architecture and design modified the original blueprint of the Cathedral, bringing it sky high into perfection. Gaudí has had many magnificent architectural pieces before his devotion to the Sagrada Família. Many of these previous works have played an important roles in perfecting Gaudí’s Cryptogram© and revolutionary architectural and engineering designs. If one were to follow Gaudi’s famous works closely, one would see the iconic resemblance of Gaudí’s Crypt (if it were completed to his original designs) with the Sagrada Família.
Unfortunately, Gaudí did not live to see his final masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, to completion. Gaudí envisioned the Sagrada Família to be one of his most bold and emblematic masterpiece, laden and embodied with distinct cryptograhic symbolisms; which are not easily comprehended by many even until today. The journey of construction of this Cathedral has been ongoing for more than a 100 years and is still in the construction phases. In fact, some of Gaudí’s Cryptogram© and architectural design works are still being interpreted today, to fully understand the original design by some of his remaining students after his death in 1926.
Though incomplete, Sagrada Família is already named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1984 and was subsequently declared a Minor Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.
The estimated date of completion is speculated to be around 2026 exactly in commemoration of Gaudí’s 100th death anniversary.
As a fervent believer in Catholicism, Gaudí conceptualised the cathedral as a form of evangelistic communication of Christian knowledge and education showcased through works of art and design as portrayed and embodied in the beauty of the cathedral itself.
“The temple as a whole, as well being a place for divine worship,
will artistically represent the truths of religion
and the glorification of God and His Saints.”
– Antoni Gaudí
But of course, besides an evangelistic feel, Gaudí also added his own architectural ingenious into the concept of Sagrada Família, covering it with his own ‘Gaudí’s Cryptogram© and artistic flair’.
Expressivity of the biblical parables were manifested through carved sculptures and iconographs that were built all around and about the Cathedral. Explicitly inscripted Gaudi’s Cryptograms and texts encouraged visitors to decipher the meaning behind them especially in the order they were placed at.
With an eye for detail, visitors can easily see the inscriptions if one were to stare carefully at each piece of art. While some are not that obvious or easy to see with the naked eye, many of the inscriptions at the top of the building on the exterior sides can be quite catchy. The meaning behind each of these codes carry different interpretations and personal meaning for every individual – almost as if this Cathedral is talking to you. From the angle, the position, and even the shadows which these sculptures create, the codes, art and texts, with so much deeper meaning and message, are what I affectionately call “Gaudí’s Cryptogram©”.
As an architect who speaks his own architectonic language embodied with his beliefs, Gaudí’s impressive wonders of work demonstrated on the Sagrada Familía was an architectural revolution for its time and even until today.
The Sagrada Família is an exceptionally huge modernisme cathedral designed way back in its time of inception in the form of a Latin Cross, incorporating with features from naturalistic elements as what Gaudí’s had done at the Gaudí’s Crypt. The cathedral is constructed of but not limited to; local sandstone and granite from the famous Montjuïc mountains not just because of its material strength but also of its deeper symbolic representation.
The building has a tripartite facades and eighteen towers, of which eight have been completed today. The eighteen towers on top of the main building were to be built in descending order of height of which the height symbolises the hierarchy of divinity of each of the main characters in the bible: Jesus Christ (at the highest), the Virgin Mary, the twelve apostles, and the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
Being a pure visionary ahead of his time, Gaudí knew that this mega-project would be a tedious, time-consuming building project. Thus, he made the blueprint as simple and layman enough to interpret; and maybe even for his successors to improvise or add to. Hence, thanks to his forward thinking, even after his death, the project still continues on today by new modern architectural talents, even with room for them to devise their own styles and modernistic interpretations based on his original design. The current team of architects in charge of the construction today is led by Jordi Faulí i Oller.
The three main facades of this historical edifice are named Nativity, Passion and Glory. All three facades represented the important phases of the life of Jesus Christ from His birth to His death and His resurrection.
The Nativity Facade
(Situated along Carrer de la Marina with Placa de Gaudí on the opposite)
A facade of Gaudí’s panache that represents the unification of the church, this was the first facade completed and also the only part of the cathedral that Gaudí had completed himself. Gaudí died on 10 June 1929 at the age of 74 years after being hit by a tram. He was buried here in the crypt of Sagrada Família in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many may have mistakenly thought that Gaudí was buried at Gaudi’s Crypt instead maybe because of the name of that place.
Gaudí had invested a remarkable amount of his bizarre creativity to achieve this wonderful piece of work and even more so when he integrated his cryptograms inside for viewers to decipher. By just staring at each area of his artwork, one can be easily awed by the intricate details and cryptographic symbols and codes he left encompassed inside the art that brings such a deep meaning and maybe even personal revelation.
As a big fan of mother nature, he also combined the elaborate designs of nature with biblical characters in the form of decorative arts to promote a simple yet meaningful story-telling all-embodying value system that every visitor might understand with just one look…or maybe even more. It did take me a while to find Jesus’ name inscribed within all of that beautiful art!
Oriented to the east, towards the rising of the sun, this facade depicts the birth of Jesus Christ. The morning sun that passes through the ornate glass carry with them the shadows of those figurines inside the church as the morning service begins. This is another of Gaudí’s ingenious ideas that he crafted and improved since Gaudi’s Crypt. It was the most exclusive and comprehensively detailed facade compared to the other two.
This facade portrays the phase of Nativity with Virgin Mary and Joseph at the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Star of Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men, the Shepherds, heralding angels and the “Tree of Life”; which resembles the Christmas tree with white doves ascending – which I believe represents the true meaning of Christmas and Peace on Earth.
Frankly speaking, the look of this facade to me from afar looked like it was melting away with the winds, making the leaves sway and the clouds beneath the angels start to float. If one has a good eye sight or a good zoom camera, one can spot the Christograms and inscriptions Gaudí integrated in the artwork. The fact that Gaudí could inventively incorporate such cryptographic symbols in every nook and corner of his art flawlessly amazed everyone. I won’t lay it out as spoilers but implore every visitor to try to find all of his cryptographs and find out its definition like a puzzle to decipher; because in that way, one can truly understand and appreciate his hard work. Even the order and position of the artwork has a deeper meaning behind them.
The Passion Facade
(Situated along Carrer de Sardenya)
Facing the west, in line with the setting of the sun, this facade depicts the Passion of Christ and His Crucification. The appearance of this facade is clearly different to the Nativity facade. Unadorned and under-decorated, this is also known as a facade of darkness. It is edged in a geometric form, supported by six stupendous pillars. Right above the trunks, arranged along the neat pyramidal shape on top, were eighteen bone-shaped columns that represented the ‘Crown of Thorns’ and Christogram letters inscribed over them which reads “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”. With a good eye, one can see beyond the ‘Crown of Thorns’ on the facade wall behind these columns had symbols and greek letters depicting – what I believe to be – the Passion of Christ.
The setting scene of the biblical story and covered in light of the setting sun, the art work on this facade are divided into three levels, portraying in ascending order; the Last Supper, the Calvary and the Resurrection of Christ. Every visitor should try to decipher each of the scenes and for those who can’t, there’s a tourist information signboard somewhere around the steps of the west entrance that reveals the episodes of those figurines.
The Glory Facade
(Situated along Carrer de Mallorca)
This facade has only just begun its construction and is still in its makeover stage. A grandeur facade of all upon its completion, this facade faces South and is a dedication to the Celestial Glory of Jesus Christ depicting Death, Judgement and Glory.
According to references, a huge flight of stairs will be built across the underground passageway through Carrer de Mallorca. It will be intensively decorated and ornamented with sculptures and carvings to depict Hell and Death. Seven large pillars will be constructed along the porch of the building as a dedication to the Holy Spirit. The portrayal of Seven deadly Sins can then be found at the base of the pillars while the Seven Heavenly Virtues at the top.
The amazement of Gaudí’s great work continues to spark wonder on the interior of Sagrada Família. Immediately upon entering, one will be basked in an atmosphere of ‘wow’ and almost instantly, the unique harmony of purpose, art and serenity of Gaudi’s architectural revolution and symbolism sparks a continued interest behind one’s mind. It is as if every single detail and work of art is talking to you and waiting for you to understand them.
The interior is also filled with biblical concepts in the form of art and design in its purest meaning; symbolising celestial Jerusalem. The main features that captures attention are the clusters of tall straight pillars which represented the Christian cities, its continents and the apostles.
There is so much wonder and so many intricate angles to view each and every detail that one simply cannot finish in a day and not to mention the angle of your neck after looking upwards for so long. But for those who have been to Gaudi’s Crypt before coming to the Sagrada Familia, one would easily recognise the hyperbolic designs and ‘branches’ of Gaudí’s architectural genius.
Every single element of the building from ceilings to windows, pillars to spiral staircases are all so well defined and elaborate in their own design and uniqueness. Furthermore, the angles and designs also contributed to the beauty of other parts of the interior.
Themed in simple white, the interior gives a clean, modern touch in a colourful setting, complimented by star-shaped flower-blooming designed ceilings and coloured glass stained windows designed in flowery shapes with different hues. The stained glass windows are made up of red, yellow, green and blue. Strong sunlight shining into the cathedral flooded the interior in a pool of fiery orange light and depending on the time of the day, the colour changes!
The pillars at the nave of the church are of sheer incredible heights and are constructed in a tree-like shaped which was a symbol of nature as it was first designed by Gaudí at Gaudi’s Crypt. The sky high pillars extends from the ground and springs straight up to the ceiling and fans out at the top of the cathedral like branches while adjoining with the star shaped flower-like ceiling.
This star-shaped flower-like ceilings reminded me of the biblical mention of Heaven opening up and shining down upon us; although I’m not sure this is the exact symbolism in Gaudí’s perspective but it sure leaves me such an impression to remember.
No visit to the Sagrada Família is completed without heading to the Museum of Sagrada Família located the the basement of Passion facade. This museum used to be the workshop where Gaudí and his team gathered for brainstorming and work in action in the early days. Today, this is a place where historical church relics and treasures are stored. The museum works to preserve and promote the works of Gaudí through the conservation of his original ideas and architectural concept. From the foldable church benches to the bishop’s multi-purpose, multi-storage altar cabinet, one can see the ingenuity of Gaudí’s innovativeness way before IKEA.
For spoilers, a complete scale plaster model of what the Sagrada Familia would look like upon completion can be found at the west entrance observation deck. Ornaments, relics, altar pieces, drawings, liturgical furnitures and fittings, as well as contemporary pictures can be found in the museum. Among these on display are the original models, while some are replicas of the originals and even the new modern models in use. There are so much information to digest over here and I believe every visitor should spend some time to slowly absorb these interesting displays and information.
Challenging and defying the traditional way of architecture, Gaudí has indeed greatly expressed his unexplained level of creativity and ideas on the Sagrada Família where even till this modern day, no one has ever figured out the mastery and passion behind each of his work. Moreover, I dare say no one can ever find another architecture of its time that is so ostentatious and mind blowing as Gaudí’s.
In this present day, Sagrada Família is not about Gaudí alone anymore. It is the combination of hard work by generations of geniuses, talents and architectural enthusiasts along its journey to completion. The understanding of Gaudí’s concepts and cryptograms, to take them forward after Gaudí, is what many experts are trying to interpret, inculcate and incorporate into the unfinished areas of the Sagrada Família. Nevertheless, I would definitely say that this grandeur project will always cause anyone, be it local or tourist, to look up at it and to it; even from afar.
As the of completion this fascinating Sagrada Família is drawing nearer, so is the anticipation of Gaudí’s aficionados growing faster than their age. All of its eighteen towers will be united and standing gloriously to symbolise Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the twelve apostles and four evangelists.
How unbelievable can one man’s humble architectural dream and legacy be such a huge impact for the future generations after him. Sagrada Família will always be an architectural awe that is second to none in our generation and maybe even the generations to come.
TIP: SKIP THE QUEUE!
Sagrada Família is so famous to the extent that every visitor wants to have a piece of its beauty…especially in their selfies, Instagrams and Facebook. Hence, queuing time may take up to more than an hour at peak times before and after lunch. So, I kindly encourage all of you (who cared to read all of my blogs) to book your ticket in advance online. This will allow you to show up at your appointed time at the designated gate and enter the cathedral without letting your excitement wait or worse…melt under the beating sun. There are also two methods of payments; by visa debit (pin required but foreign bank cards may not work) or cash at the counter. If you are a student (or if you look young enough to be a student) you can get a discounted entrance ticket price!
There are generally 2 types of tickets, both with an added optional audio tour guide. You can choose to purchase the entrance ticket just for visiting the cathedral and lower compounds alone or pay a little bit more to take your experience to a higher level by combining it with a roof terrace access. For the roof terrace of the Nativity facade, you can enjoy the unblocked east view of Barcelona and from the Passion facade, Barcelona’s city centre.
The roof terrace is easily accessible by the elevator but for coming down, visitors have to take the spiral staircases (unless assistance is required). The entrances and exits are on the Nativity and Passion facade respectively. I strongly recommend everyone to take their time and indulge in the magnificent works and dedication put into this majestic masterpiece.
For information on opening hours, please visit their website for more information as their opening hours differs in different months of the year.
As the Sagrada Família is still unfinished, so is this blog of mine. I will continue to update new information and upload new pictures on the progress of this momentous world monument on my every trip back to Barcelona.
Sagrada Família has not only changed my life unknowingly, but has also inspired me greatly. I hope it does the same to you. Let us continue to follow this great construction till the day of its completion.
Address: 401 Carrer de Mallorca Barcelona 08013 Spain
Website and Ticket Sale: http://www.sagradafamilia.org