That’s right, one of the main things you should keep in mind when planning a trip to the Sagrada Família is that despite having been consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, the construction is still not finished. This means that you’ll have to excuse the cranes, occasional drilling noise and the general look of a building site as you access the building. Rest assured though, the construction work is due to come to an end sometime in the next ten years and it’s still very much worth going to visit right now.
While tourists flood in their millions each year to see this architectural wonder, the Sagrada Família has long divided the local residents of Barcelona. From the very start some residents worried it would detract from the Barcelona Cathedral in the Old Town of Barcelona, while others simply hate the design. It’s no surprise that art critic Rainer Zerbst said of it that ‘it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art’.
Gaudí was fully aware that he would not be around to see the completion of his masterpiece so left detailed plans and models for future architects to follow. However, many of these were destroyed by Catalan anarchists – opposed to religion – in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, current construction follows reconstructed versions of the original plans but some people have questioned to what extent they stay true to Gaudí’s original vision.
It could be easy to forget that Barcelona’s most famous tourist site is also a fully operational Roman Catholic basilica, meaning that there are masses held throughout the year as well as special religious ceremonies. Masses at the Sagrada Família are free to attend but don’t think this means a free tour – attendees are expected to show due respect and observe proper protocol during mass.
True to his Christian faith, Gaudí humbly believed that no man-made construction should supersede the work of God. For this reason he designed the Sagrada Família to be 170 meters tall when completed, precisely one meter shorter than the nearby Montjuïc hill.
Antoni Gaudí was a devout Catholic and aspired to convey his deep religious faith through his work. Each of the 18 towers of the finished design will represent a figure from the Bible, with the largest tower dedicated to Jesus Christ, four towers for the Evangelists, a tower for the Virgin Mary and twelve towers for the apostles. Each façade represents a different phase in Jesus’ life and is dedicated to the three virtues of faith, hope and love.
Whatever the time of day or year, there are some stunning pictures to be taken at the Sagrada Família. However if you’re looking to take some particular shots, you may want to plan the timing of your visit accordingly. One of the best times to capture the stream of light pouring through the colourful stained glass windows is around 5-6pm or about two to three hours before the sun sets. However, if you’re looking to capture pictures of the façades, especially the Nativity facade, then you may want to visit in the morning so as to have the right light (and no sun glaring at your camera).
To truly appreciate Gaudí’s work you should plan to spend around the same amount of time visiting the inside of the Sagrada Família as the outside. The three facades are replete with ornate sculptures, inscriptions, symbols and engravings dedicated to the three themes mentioned above. Search for details such as the magic circle – a mathematical marvel – or the sculptures of a tortoise and a turtle representing the balance between land and sea.
Aside from the Bible, Gaudí took his inspiration from the natural world to design his unusual creation. More than just including sculptures of wildlife in his design, Gaudí studied animals, plants and even the stars to understand their geometry and function. The columns which support the vault are modelled on trees, branching out from a single base like branches. While a staircase resembles the form of a snail’s shell with a helicoidal surface.
Regardless of when you plan your trip, you’re likely to visit the Sagrada Família alongside hundreds of other people almost any day of the year. But don’t let this put you off or detract from the experience. This is one of the most incredible landmarks you’re likely to see in your lifetime and whether Gaudí’s aesthetic appeals to you or not, you have to appreciate the genius and originality of his design.