An iconic building of Barcelona, many travellers are content enough to see Gaudi’s design. Little do they know, if they were to step inside Sagrada Familia, it’ll be much more stunning than you can expect. At least it was for me.
This post has been at the back of my head for a long time, waiting to be written.. Almost 3.5 years, to be exact. I just couldn’t sit down to craft this post because I knew, no matter what I write, how I write it, no matter the photos that you’ll see here, it’ll never be enough to justify how intense, how breathtaking, this work by Gaudi actually is.
Inside Sagrada Familia, the Basilica
Years ago in design school, the lecturer asked us to guess just how long this cathedral (actually it has been granted basilica status in 2010) has been in under construction. The answer: since 1882! I stopped feeling sleepy there and then, sitting up to hear about how a building could take so long to be built. It’s more than twice the number of years that Singapore’s been an independent country. I mean, just how much money it must have taken! And the manpower?!?
Work began in 1882, but Gaudí wasn’t the first architect. He took over in 1883, after the original architect – Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano – resigned. First, the crypt was built and completed in 1889. Gaudí received a large anonymous donation by someone called “Isabel”. With the money, he proposed a more lavish, hugely symbolic version of the church. Through sculptures and architecture, teachings of the Gospels and Christian Church will be conveyed.
In 1892, the Nativity facade had its foundations begin construction. This facade was built first instead of the Passion facade because Gaudi knew and said, “If, instead of building this decorated, richly ornamented facade, we had started with the hard, bare and skeletal Passion facade, people would have rejected it.”
For 43 years of his life, Gaudí worked on the temple. During the last 12 years of his life, he had left all other projects, to fully focus on Sagrada Familia. He was so involved that he lived nearby his studio workshop, working on all the scale models, designs, drawings, and taking photographs of his models in order to produce life-like sculptures. In 1923, Gaudí completed the final design for the naves and roofs. By Nov 1925, the first bell tower was completed – it became the only tower that Gaudí saw. In 1926, Gaudi died 3 days sustaining injuries after being knocked down by a tram while leaving the temple.
Domènec Sugrañes, Gaudi’s close collaborator, took over management after his death, until 1938.
The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and destroyed the studio workshop. Many large-scale plaster models were destroyed; original plans, drawings and photographs were lost. Despite this, work for Sagrada Familia went on and has always proceeded with Gaudi’s original concept. Over all the years, many architects, sculptors, draughtsmen and modellers have collaborated with Gaudi.
After the civil war’s destruction, the architect Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal, who had worked with Gaudi since 1919, restored the crypt and repaired many broken models. Because of this, construction of Sagrada Familia could continue in accordance with Gaudi’s vision. The directors that followed afterwards were people who had worked closely with Gaudi, then succeeded by a few more. From 2012, Jordi Faulí i Oller has been in charge.
My 2nd time stepping into Sagrada Familia
In 2007, I was in Barcelona and visited Sagrada Familia. At that time, the inner temple was still largely under construction, I passed through without much thought. In 2013, I was back in Barcelona again. My friend has never been to Barcelona, of course we’ll visit Sagrada Familia! After collecting the audio guide at the entrance, we started with the Passion facade.
The Passion Facade
I couldn’t take a full view because the left side of the facade was under construction. The Passion facade illustrates the last week of Christ’s life. Gaudi had made a sketch of this entrance in 1911. In 1986, the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs was put in charge of the Passion facade. He presented the story in an inverted S, from bottom to the top, the way Gaudi encourages breaking away from convention. You’re supposed to ‘read’ it from the Last Supper at the bottom to the Crucifixion and Burial at the top.
I actually really like Subirachs’ sculptural style – angular, outlined, dramatic and expressive. Subirachs also implemented Gaudi’s art style referenced from his other projects, paying tribute to the great master in subtle ways.
Entering the Inner temple
After I was done with the Passion facade, I stepped into the inner temple, never expecting to see or feel what would be before my eyes.
My breath was taken away.
Everywhere I looked, the inner temple was filled with light and colors.
When the sun comes in through the stained glass windows, the colors that enter the temple are simply stunning!
Those aren’t spotlights nor painted ceilings, it was the sun shining in through the windows and the colors illuminating the bare concrete of the ceiling! I was lost for words.
The patterns and columns holding up the inner temple were largely inspired by nature, as if you’re within a huge forest.
It was here where I sat, tears beginning to fall.
There I was, feeling really moved by all the light, colours and art in this temple. I wept silently, not for the beauty that surrounds me, but for the death of something back home. My friend sat down next to me, never saying a word, simply providing company and silent support, which was more than enough. Soft music played in the background. It was right here, that I felt an inner peace wash over me. It was right here, that many things in my life shifted, yet I had not known it would all be for the better.
Going up the Towers
The Nativity Facade
A highly ornamental, very intricately created facade at the other side of Sagrada Familia, there’s so many details to look at when you stand in front of Nativity facade. Gaudi, being the master of details, also did mathematical calculations so that the sculptures will look in proportion as you view from the bottom. He originally
Sagrada Familia is estimated to be completed in 2026, 100 years since Gaudi’s death. I’m looking forward to visiting the basilica again when it’s fully finished!
Have you been to Sagrada Familia? Do you intend to visit?
Travel Tip: Buy tickets online because there is crowd control implemented. They don’t allow too many visitors at any one time.
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