Sagrada Familia

One of the highlights of Barcelona is the incredible Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudi.  Construction of this huge church began in 1882 and it’s estimated that it will be completed in 2026; the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

The Nativity Facade of Sagrada Familia

Details of the Central Portal.

Our visit began on the east side of the building known as the Nativity Facade.  This facade was built during Gaudi’s lifetime and was the first to be completed.  There are three portals; one for Joseph, one for Mary and the center portal, the largest, which is for Christ.  The tone here is joyful and the figures are sculpted realistically and in soft tones. Gaudi’s love of nature really shows here with all sorts of animals and plants populating the scenes.

Looking up from beneath the central portal.

The door of the Faith Portal.

Detail of the Faith door.

This facade, as are all parts of the church, is full of symbology.  The four towers are for four saints, Matthias, Barnabas, Jude and Simon.  The doors, or portals, are symbols of three Christian virtues: Hope, Faith and Charity.  At the base of the two columns separating the portals are a tortoise and a turtle.  One represents land and the other the sea.  There are even two chameleons on the facade, to represent change.

Can you spot the chameleon?

After spending about an hour marveling at the Nativity Facade we entered the church.  Two steps inside and we were awestruck!  Mona said that it felt like she was walking into a forest with the sun streaming through the branches…and that’s exactly the effect Gaudi wanted you to feel!  The interior has huge columns reaching upward with branches reaching out to hold up the ornate ceiling above.  There are stained-glass windows everywhere, all in varying shades of color which creates a mystical forest glade effect.

It’s like looking up in a forest.

There are stain-glass windows everywhere casting a profusion of light and color into the sanctuary.

I am really struggling for words to describe the inside of La Sagrada Familia…majestic, wondrous, awe-inspiring….instead of words let’s let the pictures below show you what we saw!

A few of the 1492 organ pipes.

A circular glass elevator rises up along side the spiral staircase.

Looking down the nave towards the altar. This picture gives you a better sense of the height of the interior.

Next on our tour was to go out the exit and then turn around to study the Passion Facade.  We had seen this facade from our tour bus a couple of days ago, but didn’t realize what we were seeing.  Now, our audio tour explained that this facade was deliberately carved with harsh, angular features to portray the brutalness of the crucifixion and the agony suffered by Christ.

The harsh and almost-angry lines of the Passion Facade are in stark contrast to the soft and beautiful lines of the Nativity Facade.

On this facade are scenes from the end days of Christ: The Last Supper, the Kiss from Judas, Peter denying Christ (including a rooster), the crucifixion and the resurrection.  The whole sense of this facade was about death, agony and gloom. Gaudi certainly  did an excellent job of conveying these emotions through sculpture and I was glad to move on.

Christ with his crown of thorns.

The gloom and agony of the crucifition.

Even the doors on the Passion Facade are harsh and unwelcoming.

There is yet another, and final, facade under construction.  This is on the building’s south side and will be known as the Glory Facade and will represent Christ’s triumph over death and his ascension into Heaven.  This is to be the masterpiece of the exterior and the entire block across from the Sagrada Familia will have to be demolished to make room for this new primary entrance to the building.

Detail of two of the spires. Even here Gaudi wanted lots of color and detail.

After touring the church inside and out we went to the museum below the church.  Here we learned how Gaudi designed the building with the rudimentary tools of his day.  There is even a model of the church, built by Gaudi, of strings and little sacks of sand.  He used this model to design the catenary curves that are prevalent inside the church.

The strings and sacks of sand that Gaudi used to model the catenary curves that are the structural basis of the the church.

Also inside the museum are many plaster models of details of the church.  Gaudi knew he would not live to see the completion of his masterpiece so he built models to be used by future architects and builders.  Unfortunately, many of these models were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.  But most fortunately, architects and designers have been able to replicate the destroyed models using modern computing tools.  If you visit Sagrada Familia be sure to visit the museum!

Plaster models of details for construction alongside a modern-day architect using a computer and a 3D printer.

We weren’t done with our tour yet so we went back inside to gape and gawk.  We were here so long our necks began to ache from all the looking up!

The ceiling of the nave. So much beauty above!

There is still much work to be done on the temple before its targeted completion date of 2026.  As I said, the Glory Facade still needs to be completed and only eight of the eighteen designed spires are complete.  Note that Gaudi was a lover of nature and didn’t want to best nature so the tallest tower of the church is designed to be one meter shorter than Barcelona’s historic hill, Montjuic.

One last ceiling photograph. This one is of one of the transept’s ceilings.

The Sagrada Familia is an amazing testament to faith, engineering and geometry is not to be missed if you’re visiting Barcelona!


We booked our tour directly through Sagrada Familia’s website. It’s important to book ahead because walk-ups often have to wait hours to get entrance.




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