on July 21, 2010
We decided on our first morning in Barcelona to head to this famed sight – but the fellas were hungry and wanted something more than a quick cup of coffee to get them going – and so when we arrived there was no queue, but having sat and enjoyed coffee while the boys ate we watched as the queue grew exponentially, and curved around the corner. So before it got any longer, we rushed to join the end – but it moved reasonably briskly.Sagrada Familia was a church started by Gaudi, but is still not completed and will not be some time – it was started in 1826 and the completion date is estimated to be at least 2026. It is still very much a work in progress – cranes loom over the spires, workers in hard hats wander about, there is constant noise going on. Gaudi died in 1926, having spent many years working exclusively on this building- but leaving much to do, and many architects have followed in the footsteps of Gaudi in working to complete this masterpiece. As a result of the long period of construction, several different influences can be seen in the detailed work.The entrance is at the western end of the building – and displays one of the three facades that Gaudi intended, the three being the nativity, the passion and the glory. The nativity, which is the closest to Gaudi’s intentions and is on the east facade – and shows some very intricate and elaborate designs. The western facade were you enter is the Passion, and is of a very different style, - with definite lines, an almost austere feel to it. I suppose in fact it is fitting, the Nativity facade is softer, more fitting with how we view Christmas, but the Passion facade does reveal the pain and suffering of Christ’s last days leading up to his crucifixion. In one sense you need to have a little understanding of Christ’s passion to make sense of the story told by the series of angular sculptures as they are all clustered around the central point of the crucifixion. Some I found moving – the flagellation of Jesus – his face was so expressive, and other parts I was amazed at the detail – the cock that crowed three times to match Peter’s denial of Jesus, the magic square of numbers that add up to 33 the age of Jesus at his death. The doors on the western facade are magnificent with words from the Bible in several different languages, with a few highlighted by different colours, such as Jesus. While the nativity may be closer to Gaudi’s ideals, and is beautiful and fascinating in its own right, I found the passion one more of a spiritual experience. The third facade has only just been started, and it will be many years before completion.On entrying, having seen the completed passion facade, you realise this is still a work in progress, with much to be done. But inside is still amazing even with all the noise and workers in hard hats. With huge pillars curving up towards the roof. But one of the problems with visiting this building, is that Gaudi had so much symbolism, some more cryptic than others. But even in the nave - the main part of the church, the pillars are just pillars but are actually intended to be trees, with branches coming out at the top to create a canopy – a cathedral of man’s design to match the cathedral of God’s design in nature. We were lucky to see a display about some of the design, which attempted to explore some of this – but most tourists skipped this. There are several options to go up one of the towers – being cheap and a time conscious we picked the shorter queue – which took us up by lift but meant then climbing down through one of the towers. It was great to get a little closer to those amazing spires and bright pinnacles, but also to see the inside of one as we climbed down was revealing because even here – there was attention to detail.Walking around this unfinished ‘cathedral’, one is reminded of how long and how much craftsmanship went into many of the other great European cathedrals which took centuries to build. This may not officially be a cathedral, but it is of that grandeur, quality and creativity. It uses the skills and creativity of humans to reflect on the glory of God. You can see how not only Gaudi poured his life into this place, but also many others. To see this place completed will be great, but to see the dedication and hard graft that created this place is something else. It is worth going early in the morning as the crowds quickly arrive, and though not empty when we arrived by the time we left it was so buzzing with people that it had lost some of its specialness, and we felt we were fighting for some space to get clear views which we hadn’t earlier. There is a pretty decent shop on sight as you are leaving – and some okay toilets just before the exit. Having spent most of the morning there, and the temperature was rising, we went on the hunt for something cool to eat or drink – and given this is a major tourist attraction there are plenty of cafes about (and usefully in my case a bank, and my sunburn-prone friend found a chemist shop for suncream). Sagrada Familia may not fully be Gaudi’s design or work, but it is a huge project, that even he never expected to complete in his lifetime. It is well-worth a visit!
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