I’m not sure what has been on my bucket list longer, la Sagrada Familia or Machu Picchu. Sagrada Familia first came into my consciousness with a CBS 60 minutes story on the famed basilica in 2013. Soon after that story aired, my daughter Natalie, had a semester in Spain and traveled to Barcelona and toured the basilica and I was mesmerized. So as the pandemic was petering out, I told my children I wanted to go to Barcelona with the expressed purpose of seeing this famed church in person. I was not disappointed.
My experience of the Sagrada Familia:
Getting there. We were staying in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona and had the earliest entry time for our tickets which was 9 AM. 9 AM in Barcelona might as well be 6 AM. It’s a very quiet time of the day even on a Thursday. We took a metro from the Gothic Quarter to Eixample which is the quarter the church is located in. We walked some three blocks from the metro station and as there is a park in front of the church as we approached you could see the spires of the basilica rising above the trees. As it came into view, I felt my eyes well up at the sheer size of the building. It felt like it was at least two city blocks in size with a park in front and behind. Even without entering this sacred place, its size is breathtaking.
Nativity Facade. The Nativity Facade is the side of the church by which everyone enters. It reminds me somewhat of Rodin’s Gates of Hell except that Sagrada Familia is a thousand times larger. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of figures and statues representing all different parts of the Bible on the exterior facade. It is an intricate, storytelling wall. Antonio Gaudi, who led the construction until his death in 1926, envisioned priests teaching different parts of the Bible by using the Nativity Facade. The basilica has been under construction since 1882 and remains unfinished to this day with the expectation that it will be completed in 2032. The Nativity Facade is the only part of the church that Gaudi personally oversaw the construction of.
Central Nave. Nothing could prepare me for standing in the center of the central nave of the church. I felt like I was walking into a stone forest. You cannot help but look up. Everything from the tree-trunk like supports and stained glass that is colored blue for the winter and orange and red for the summer brings your eyes upward. Gaudi had everything designed with models so that, because he knew he wouldn’t see the basilica complete, it could be completed as he intended. So, this nave, where I was standing, was designed by a man over a century ago without the help of computers or cranes and had redwood tree size supports made of stone from different parts of the world that could hold the weight of the structure. It’s impossible to walk past one of those supports and not touch it in disbelief.
Passion Towers. The passion towers which is part of the Passion Facade (opposite side of the church from the Nativity Facade) was completed in 2018. We had tickets that permitted us to take an elevator up one of the towers. From the towers we were able to walk around. In between two of the towers there was a terrific view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Montjiuc (a mountain in Barcelona) and the rest of the city of Barcelona below. Each of the spires had uniquesteeple, very Gaudi-esque. Some looked like yellow serpents and others like a bunch of green grapes. I managed to descend the tiny circular staircase (I’m guessing it was about 20 flights) although I thought I was in a scene from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The towers were a great diversion because by the time we were back on the main floor the building was bustling with thousands of visitors.
It’s a testament to all the workers and architects that continue Guadi’s work. To think that the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids were completed in less time and that most of the models Gaudi made were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and were recreated using modern technology. There are three breath taking churches that I have been inside in my lifetime, the beautifully ornate blue light of the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, the incredibly old (1248 A.D.) intricate stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the wondrous, expansive, white stone forest of the Sagrada Familia. It’s humbling to experience something so beautifully pristine and I’m so thankful they continue to do Gaudi’s work.