Temple of the Sagrada Familia

Basílica de la Sagrada Família

The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family (most commonly known as the Sagrada Familia) is Barcelona’s main tourist spot – this is the highest, the most unusual, well-known and frequented church in the city. Everything in this temple amazes you: surreal architecture, proportions, scale – it occupies an entire block of the Eixample district and actually is a set of buildings.

The construction began in 1882 following the initiative of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph (hence the name – Jesus, Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family) and no one could tell then that a modest neo-Gothic project would turn into one of the greatest human creations of all times. A year later everything changed when in 1883 when a new architect came to the construction site – it was then having little experience but extremely talented Antoni Gaudi who proposed his own project.

According to his idea the church had to feature three facades which would gradually depict the events of the mortal life of Jesus and the triumph of the Christian faith. The initiators decided that the construction should only be financed by donations, which resulted in a very slow pace despite all the efforts taken by Gaudi who starting from 1914 practically lived on the site in his workshop next to the church having completely abandoned all of his secular projects for the sake of this temple. By the time of his death in 1926 (he spent 42 years of his live building that church) only the crypt, apse, the main part of the Nativity Facade and one of the four pillars of this facade divided into three porticos (Hope, Faith and Charity with corresponding scenes from the Bible) were completed. It was planned that the construction should be crowned by 18 towers one taller than another, 12 of which were dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Virgin Mary and the central one, the highest (170 meters high) with a viewing point, to Jesus.

After the Civil War in Spain many of Gaudi’s designs and drafts were lost and the construction stopped for more than 15 years, when the Passion Facade was started. The largest and the most dazzling of the facades, Glory Facade began to emerge only in 2000, while the temple was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI only in 2010.

The pace of construction brings us back to the medieval times when construction of European churches took hundreds of years, yet for hundreds of years they survived to see this day, and when the traditions and the idea of brotherhood and mutual support between craftsmen community were strong. Maybe Gaudi was attracted to that time because he searched for purity, moral and spiritual renovation, a return to the origins as opposed to the mass production technologies of the progress of the late 19th century and the early 20th century.

All of the facades of the temple are loaded with sculptures (designed after the construction workers), symbols and decorations. As for the decorations, there are traditional Christian ones (angels, grapes, palm leaves, roses, prayers in Latin, anagrams of Jesus and Virgin Mary) but there are also some very unusual ornaments as well, such as frogs, lizards, snakes, snails and turtles. Some evidence suggests that the architect wanted to make all of them in color.

The most controversial is the Passion Facade with its dramatic, sharp edged and awkward figures by Josep Maria Subirachs, accused by many of abandoning the initial ideas of Gaudi. Nonetheless in these warrior sculptures on the façade (depicting Roman soldiers at the crucifixion of Christ) we can find a direct quote of the warriors from the roof of another Gaudi’s masterpiece, Casa Mila.

The interior of the church is also utterly amazing – here you find yourself in a forest of pillars, which bear the load of the temple. An entire day can be easily spent closely watching the details of decorations of the Sagrada Familia’s walls. This is a separate universe with its own distinctive symbolic language, center of creation (Jesus Christ), with its own flora and fauna. An elevator will take you high above up to the sky where you can ramble along the bridges between the towers. The basilica is the not the main temple in Barcelona. Sometimes it is referred to as the third cathedral after the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. It is hoped that the Sagrada Familia will be completed in 2026.

It is advisable to purchase a ticket for a specific date and time in advance and online in order to avoid standing in huge lines.

Address: Carrer de Mallorca, 401
Opening hours: daily - March 9 am – 7 pm, April – September 9 am – 8 pm, October 9 am – 7 pm, November – February 9 am – 6 pm, January 1-6 and December 25-26 9 am – 2 am
How to reach: metro Sagrada Família
Coordinates: 41.403564, 2.174454