Europe is known for their impressive cathedrals, churches and basilicas, but Barcelona is home to one of (if not the) most unique and impressive basilica in the entire world; La Sagrada Familia. To understand La Sagrada Familia, we must understand the brilliant architect behind the work. Antoni Gaudi lived during a time of influence of neo-gothic art and oriental techniques, though he was far ahead of his time and didn’t “play by the rules” of architecture during that time. He was truly outside of the box. Gaudi is one of the greatest architects of Catalan Modernism, and his work can be seen all around the city of Barcelona today. However, he is most famous for his work on La Sagrada Familia.
Construction of La Sagrada Familia began in 1882, and Gaudi was 31 years old when he began working on this structure. He worked on La Sagrada Familia for 41 years, but worked solely on this basilica for the last 12 years of his life until he was tragically hit by a tram; an accident that took his life in 1926. To this very day, La Sagrada Familia is not yet complete; it is continually under construction, though it is slated to be completed by 2026, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death, however, Spaniards don’t think this will happen; they joke that each time they pass La Sagrada Familia, nobody is working on it.
Gaudi’s works are characterized by whimsical, organic shapes, inspired by nature. There are no 90-degree angles in his work. For Gaudi, nature was not only an inspiration; it was also a model for developing structural and building elements. Geometric shapes are hidden throughout nature, which was Gaudi’s “God”. He also studied the crystallization of minerals, which you will see atop many of the pillars, which reminded me of giant candies.
Gaudi was a lover of music, which is why he created the open columnar spaces in the towers, so that when the organs played, the music could be heard throughout the city.
La Sagrada Familia, when completed, will stand at 126 meters (378′), making it the tallest religious building in all of Europe. The reason for such an exact height of 126 meters is intentional; the height of Montjuïc, the nearby mountain, is just one meter taller, and Gaudi exclaimed that “The work of man should not be higher than the work of God.”
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF SAGRADA FAMILIA?
Sagrada Familia in Spanish, translates to Sacred Family, and is symbolic of the lifetime of Jesus Christ. The glory facade is dedicated to His glory period, so you’ll see that this side is lighter, brighter and more filled with color and joy. The opposite side is his suffering period, depicted by darker colors and a more somber tone.
BOTTOM UPPER LEFT: A photo of Gaudi as a young man
BOTTOM RIGHT: Shapes found in nature, which inspired his architectural works
BOTTOM LEFT: A relatively recent photo of a procession inside the basilica, filled with hundreds of people
BOTTOM RIGHT: The studio where plaster models are built (Gaudi preferred to make plaster models rather than sketch drawings, as he was more textile, and the three-dimensional elements gave it a more realistic feel for him)
When the basilica is completed, the main entrance will be an iron door with the words in Latin, “Give us this day our daily bread”, translated into many different languages. Gaudi wanted the door to be outward facing so that it faces towards the sea.
Now let’s enter the interior of the basilica, as this is where the magic happens. As you walk inside, you are met with a kaleidoscope of vibrant rainbow colors, dancing off the walls, atrium and floor, reflecting from many different angles. I was personally moved to tears on several occasions once we entered. I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual and believe in a higher power; whether that be God, your grandma, the sun, yoga, the Universe, or whatever or whomever you believe in; this place has a special power, which envelops you like a warm hug and gets right down deep into your soul.
Once inside, you must cover your shoulders and wear skirts / pants / shorts below the knee. They will not allow you inside if you don’t follow these rules, but don’t fret if you don’t have a scarf to cover your shoulders; buskers sell them outside the basilica walls for only 1 euro.
Don’t forget to look up – it’s the best part of the interior. We could have sat here for an entire hour, just observing and taking in the space, the sights, the sounds, and the significances.
I’ve got a trick for those of you with smart phones that have a panorama photography option: turn your phone long way (like a hot dog), and start the pano going from the bottom to the top instead of across; this way you can capture nearly the whole ceiling in one shot.
BOTTOM LEFT: Photo of a photo taken from my iPhone
BOTTOM RIGHT: The result of the sideways panorama
Now you know why visiting La Sagrada Familia was one of the most moving experiences; the magic of the light, the colors and the beautiful music of “Ave Maria” playing, along with the music from the organs, was a full on sensory experience. Pair that with understanding the life, the studies and the interests of the brilliant architect, Antoni Gaudi, and it’s a complete understanding so that you can fully appreciate the art that you are seeing.
To access the interior of La Sagrada Familia, you must purchase tickets in advance online and select your visit time. An audio guide is included in the price, and you must download the app in order to hear it.
WHAT TO BRING TO YOUR VISIT TO LA SAGRADA FAMILIA:
- Air pods or earbuds to listen to the audio guide so as not to disturb others around you
- Your pre-purchased tickets (you can simply show the ticket on your mobile device)
- Wear pants, shorts or a skirt that covers your knees
- A scarf or top that covers your shoulders
- An open mind
- A fully charged phone or camera to take photos
- A wide angle lens (for photographers) to capture more of the interior in one shot
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