Ode to La Sagrada Familia
The 8th Man-Made Wonder of the World.
Well, that's if they ever finish it. At least that's how I describe La Sagrada Familia, the epic work of art and architecture that is surely the most emblematic symbol of Barcelona... If you, the reader, are unfamiliar with Gaudí´s incomplete masterpiece, then it would be safe to assume you are unfamiliar with the name Gaudí.
Well when you come to visit Barcelona, you will be pressed by everyone to go and see the weird and wonderful architecture that the city boasts- indeed it is hailed as the Art Nouveau Architecture Capital of the World, (at least its hailed as such here in Catalonia.) There is a bewildering variety of incredible architecture in the city, and the highly decorated Modernista (Art Nouveau) architecture is to be celebrated. The main protagonist in the city producing this architecture over 100 years ago was a man named Antoni Gaudí. Much has been written on the man and this humble blog post is not intended to be a resource into his history, all you need to know is that he was the mad genius who had the divine vision to commence a building project that would go on to span for generations, and this project is La Sagrada Familia.
It was in the late 1800s when a group of Catalan bourgeoisie wanted to construct a church in what was then the outskirts of the city of Barcelona, and proceeded to buy a block of land where to house this new church for the people. After the construction went underway in 1882, there were altercations with the original architect who ended up quitting the job, and so a young architect showing promise was suggested to take over the project, this young man would go on to become synonymous with the city of Barcelona.
In 1883 Don Antoni Gaudí took over, and as he grew in experience and boldness he started dreaming of a church that would reach high into the heavens. With its multiple towers, it would tell the tale of the birth and the death of the Christ- and all of his miracles in between. Told in stone, it would be a symbol of the story of Jesus and a veritable house of God. But he knew no man (or woman) could ever finish such a project in one lifetime, and so he put the necessary framework into place, that future generations could take over the reigns of the project.
Then.... disaster struck.
In 1936 Spain would fall into a civil war. After 3 years of horrendous atrocities committed by all factions involved, a dictatorship would start in Spain that would go on to last for over a third of a century. The reign of Francisco Franco would leave an indelible mark on the culture of the beautiful country, and it would slow down the construction of La Sagrada by decades. Oh yes and there's also the fact that anti-clerical rioters would break into the workshop of la Sagrada in 1936 and trash all of the plans and models, that didn't help. Consequently, the contemporaries of Gaudí had to piece together the puzzle, while filling in the holes that were to be lost forever. Critics nowadays say that the Sagrada is not as original as it might have been, had they still the original Gaudí designs, whereas defenders of the project state that they had more than enough info to continue as Gaudí had intended. Whichever side you might find yourself on, there is certainly one way that the church will not leave you- and that is indifferent.
I am obviously a biased and huge fan of the building. In my humble opinion, it is no longer a church nor a building project, but rather a testament to human creativity and design.
When you see it from the outside for the first time you are struck by how large it is. As there are no other building close by that are even nearly as tall, it dwarfs everything around it and makes it seem even more gargantuan. Next you're struck by the amount of detail.
The word Sanctus, Holy - is written, (rather distastefully) all around the towers, the pinnacles of which are decorated in the broken ceramic tile technique that Gaudí popularised, all colourful and impossible to fully grasp with the naked eye from down below. And then as you get closer to the building, the sculptural details on the facades seem too intricate to take in. The facade called the Nativity, where the sun rises, tells the tale of the birth of Christ and his early years- here Jesus works as a carpenter, there the three wise men bring gifts of frankincense and myrrh. This facade differs greatly from the other, the Passion, telling the tale of the death of the Christ and the events leading to it, this the side that the sun sets. A contemporary piece, the figures are angular and emotive, they invoke anguish and pain and the facade contains many a freemasonic symbol.
Then when you enter the church, you are struck fascinated by a like of architecture that you have never witnessed, it is unique in this world. Dazzling stained glass windows strike the light grey stone pillars and the shapes and forms are somewhere between how one imagines Heaven itself crossed with a spaceship, that's right- a spaceship.
It truly is awesome.
What inspired me to write this article was what happened yesterday. A close friend of mine, a remarkably talented artist herself, invited me to watch the Christmas concert held inside La Sagrada once a year. An opportunity I was not to miss. As the music went underway, the stones came alive with the orchestra, the colours danced with the choir. And as the sun set and the brilliant stained glass windows rainbow shades gave way to the dark of night and the monochromatic, almost sinister face of La Sagrada came out of hiding, so too did the drama of the orchestra bring another element to her beauty that I had never seen before. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget. Alas the concert is more difficult to get tickets to than El Clásico, but I urge you, when you come to visit Barcelona, you must enter the Divine World that is the interior of La Sagrada. A quick word of advice, book your tickets as soon as possible beforehand, as they sell out fast! And prepare to be fascinated by the (unfinished) 8th Man-Made Wonder of the World, the contemporary Tower of Babel- The Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, La Sagrada Familia.
Luke Watson is a South African born, Barcelona based Tour Guide, Street Artist and Historian.