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Basílica de la Sagrada Família

The symbol of Barcelona par excellence

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The Sagrada Família is Barcelona’s indisputable icon and Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece. It is the city’s most visited monument. It is recognisable from afar thanks to its sky-scraping towers, while its two exterior facades impact visitors at its site. However, it is inside where Gaudí’s genius is most evident. The basilica is still under construction and is not expected to be completed until 2026.

Why visit the Basílica de la Sagrada Família?

Its towers, visible from numerous points in the city, have become a characteristic element of Barcelona. Their objective is to indicate the path to the basilica for pilgrims. Barcelona cannot be conceived of without this expiatory church, to which Antoni Gaudí dedicated 40 years of his life.

Construction of the Sagrada Família or to give it its full title in English the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, started in 1883 and is still not finished. As he knew that he would not be able to complete the project in his lifetime, Gaudí bequeathed his plans to his successors and, since his death in 1926, the Modernista genius has been watching over their progress from his tomb in the crypt.

Gaudí exclusively dedicated the last 15 years of his life to the Sagrada Família, which represented the synthesis of his entire architectural career, given that he applied to the basilica everything he had learned from his other projects, such as Casa Batlló, Torre Bellesguard, La Pedrera and, above all, the crypt at Colònia Güell. The architect himself affirmed ‘I tried out the Sagrada Família’s structure first at Colònia Güell. Without this test I would never have dared use it for the basilica.’

One of Gaudí’s major contributions to the construction is the application of catenary arches, which make it possible to construct large buildings without the need for lateral structures acting as buttresses. Many of the Sagrada Família’s columns are at an angle because they form part of a catenary arch. In contrast to Roman or Gothic arches, which require buttresses, this type of arch minimises horizontal stress and distributes most of its forces to the foundations. This allows lateral buttresses to be reduced to such an extent that the arch is practically bare.

The floor plan is that of a basilica composed of a Latin cross with five naves, a transept with three naves, and an apse with a very wide ambulatory that has seven polygonal chapels and two spiral staircases leading to the choirs. For the design of the structures, Gaudí took inspiration from nature, creating columns in the shape of tree trunks that convert the interior of the basilica into an enormous stone forest. There are abundant religious references with all kinds of details. To reduce the weight of the roofs and fill the space below with sunlight, the architect built gold and green stained glass skylights into the gaps between the columns based on the concept of hyperboloid structures.

The symbolism is remarkable on its three main facades: the Nativity facade, which is highly decorated and full of life, and the only one that Gaudí saw in its completed state; the Passion facade, which covers the death and resurrection of Jesus, is more austere and simplified and was designed and built by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs from 1987 to 2009; and the Glory facade, which will be much larger and more monumental than the others, once it is finished.

But without doubt, one of the most characteristic elements of the Sagrada Família is its sheer verticality, which has the symbolic aim of reaching up to God and will be fully realised when the 18 towers designed by Gaudí, each one with its own dedication and crowned with a pinnacle that appears to fuse with the very heavens, are completed. The construction of the basilica is expected to be completed in 2026, when the church that Gaudí designed will fully transform the skyline of Barcelona, where no building has ever dared to be taller than the height planned for the Sagrada Família.

Within the enclosure occupied by the basilica, on Carrer de Sardenya, Gaudí constructed, in 1908 and 1909, the Sagrada Família Schools. The school building was designed for the children of disadvantaged families in the district and the children of the labourers working on the Sagrada Família. The building was constructed in an area that Gaudí expected to be vacant for some time, even though he had designed part of the basilica to be constructed on it. This is why in 2002 the building was moved to the corner of Carrer de Sardenya and Carrer de Mallorca. Although it was only a provisional structure, Gaudí applied all his architectural knowledge to produce such an exceptional structure that the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier made a sketch of it during a visit he made to Barcelona in 1928 and became an admirer of Gaudí’s work even though he did not support the Modernisme movement.

 

How do you get to the Sagrada Família?

The Sagrada Família stop on the Blue Route of Barcelona Bus Turístic is just outside the monument.

 

For the most curious of you

  • Did you know? The Sagrada Família is full of examples of symbolism, some of which are in plain sight while others are hidden. One of them is a 4x4 magic square, which vertically and horizontally always adds up to 33, the age of Christ at the time of the Passion. A similar square can be seen in the famous engraving "Melencolia" I by Albrecht Dürer.
  • Local’s tip: We recommend you buy your tickets online before your visit, because they sell out at the site very quickly due to its large number of visitors.
  • A must: You wouldn’t really leave Barcelona without seeing the Sagrada Família, would you?