Gaudí's incomplete masterpiece is one of the city's more idiosyncratic creations -- if you have time to see only one Catalan landmark, you should make it this one. Begun in 1882 and incomplete at the architect's death in 1926, this incredible temple -- the Church of the Holy Family -- is a bizarre wonder. The languid, amorphous structure embodies the essence of Gaudí's style, which some have described as Art Nouveau run wild.
The Sagrada Família became Gaudí's all-encompassing obsession toward the last years of this intensely religious man's life. The commission came from the Josephines, a right-wing, highly pious faction of the Catholic Church. They were of the opinion that the decadent city needed an expiatory (atonement) temple where its inhabitants could go and do penance for their sins. Gaudí, whose view of Barcelona's supposed decadence largely mirrored that of the Josephines, by all accounts had a free hand; money was no object, nor was there a deadline. As Gaudí is known to have said, "My client [God] is in no hurry."
Literally dripping in symbolism, the Sagrada Família was conceived to be a "catechism in stone." The basic design followed that of a Gothic church, with transepts, aisles, and a central nave. Apart from the riot of stone carvings, the grandeur of the structure comes from the elongated towers: four above each of the three facades (representing the apostles) reaching 100m (329 ft.), with four more (the evangelists) shooting up from the central section at a lofty 170m (558 ft.). The words SANCTUS, SANCTUS, SANCTUS, HOSANNA IN EXCELSIUS (Holy, Holy, Holy, Glory to God in the Highest) are written on these, further embellished with colorful geometric tilework. The last tower, being built over the apse, will be higher still and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is the two completed facades, however, that are the biggest crowd pleasers. The oldest, and the only one to be completed while the architect was alive, is the Nativity Facade on the Carrer Marina. So rich in detail, upon first glance it seems like a wall of molten wax. As the name suggests, the work represents the birth of Jesus; its entire expanse is crammed with figurines of the Holy Family, flute-bearing angels, and an abundance of flora and fauna. Nature was Gaudí's passion; he spent hours studying its forms in the countryside of his native Reus, south of Barcelona, and much of his work is inspired by nature. On the Nativity facade, he added birds, mushrooms, even a tortoise to go along with the rest of the religious imagery. The central piece is the "Tree of Life," a Cyprus tree scattered with nesting white doves.
On the opposite side, the Passion Facade is a harsh counterpart to the fluidity of the Nativity Facade. It is the work of Josep M. Subirachs, a well-known Catalan sculptor who, like Gaudí, has set up a workshop inside the church to complete his work. His highly stylized, elongated figures are of Christ's passion and death, from Last Supper to the Crucifixion. The work, started in 1952, has been highly criticized. In the book Barcelona, art critic Robert Hughes called it "the most blatant mass of half-digested moderniste clichés to be plunked on a notable building within living memory."
Despite his and dozens of other voices of dissent, work moves forward. In 1936, anarchists attacked the church (as they did many others in the city), destroying the plans and models Gaudí had left behind. The present architects, aided by modern technology, are working from photographs of those models. The central nave is starting to take shape and the Glory Facade is limping along. It is estimated that the whole thing will be completed by 2026 (the centenary of Gaudí's death), funded entirely by visitors and private donations.
Admission includes a 12-minute video on Gaudí's religious and secular works as well as entrance to the museum, where fascinating reconstructions of Gaudí's original models are on show.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2009
- Very Highly Recommended 2010