Sagrada Familia – Barcelona’s great living basilica

One hundred and thirty years after it was begun, Barcelona’s landmark basilica, the Sagrada Familia, continues to be under construction. Designed by the Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, it is a monument of exquisite beauty described as the living identity of the city of Barcelona.

Join LAKSHMI SHARATH as she turns up Christmas cheer with a photographic tour of the great basilica.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

If you visit Barcelona, two men will currently stand out in your mind - Lionel Messi and Antoni Gaudi. While the former is creating history for his club, FC Barcelona, Gaudi has left behind an entire legacy in the city. His masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, is a living monument and testimony to the architect’s style and is one of the key landmarks of Barcelona.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is unlike any other basilica I have seen in the world. For starters, it is not complete and has been under construction since 1882. Gaudi started getting involved with the design the very next year and devoted his last few years almost entirely to the project. When asked about the construction he is believed to have said, “My client is not in a hurry.“ Even after his death in 1926, work on the Sagrada Familia continues.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

Although the Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s magnum opus , the UNESCO monument has had its own chequered history. A bookseller was initially inspired to build it after his visit to the Vatican and Italy in the 19th century. This Roman Catholic church, started with donations from the local people, was designed in a typical Gothic revival style but Gaudi soon revolutionised the design. The church has seen various hands at work after his death and has been partially damaged during the Spanish Civil War, including Gaudi’s model.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

The façade is one of the most striking aspects of the church. Intricate and filled with carvings, it shows the Passion Façade in the West, the Nativity in the East, and the Glory in the South, which is still being constructed. The Nativity Façade, which shows images from Christ’s birth, has Gaudi’s typical architectural stamp in its symbolism and it is meant to embody the very design of the church . It represents Christmas and is known as the Façade of Life.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

Gaudi has remarked that this “expiatory church is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.” In his original design, he had planned eighteen spires. The central spire of Jesus Christ is said to have been designed with a massive cross. Gaudi had wanted it to be built at a height of 560 feet and he ensured that it was shorter than the Montjuic Hill in Barcelona. He believed that nature should always stand taller than man’s work and hoped that when the spires are complete, it will become the tallest church in the world.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

The apse façade built atop the crypt is consecrated to Our Lady. There are also seven apsidal chapels built between the walls with windows and arches that takes you back to the Gothic style but with Gaudi’s touch. Although the church was not planned to be a cathedral, it was built in a grand manner to befit any cathedral of those times.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

If you are not mesmerised by the façade, the interiors will completely stun you with its columns, colours and their creative style. I crane my neck to see the beautifully carved ceiling with its intricate detailing. The plan of the church is basically that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The columns with their ever changing surfaces are unique to Gaudi’s design. The ornamentation holds you in thrall.

Travel Barcelona Spain Sagrada Familia

The architecture may have deviated from the standard styles of churches, but Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia has been given the status of a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. While many debate over its style and the ornate design of the monument, Sagrada Familia continues to be built with donations from people even after 130 years. It is the living identity of the city of Barcelona.