Sagrada Familia: No, It's NOT Overrated & Yes, You MUST See It!
There is a very strong trend to go and visit places off the beaten path. Discover the unknown, find the hidden gems and tourists-free spots.
Barcelona's Sagrada Familia definitely ain't it.
It's crowded, very popular and famous. But you know what? Most of the times there is a reason why such a place is that popular, crowded and "a must".
Sagrada Familia is worth the crowds, popularity, and lack of "unknown gem" patch. And I am saying it as an introvert who prefers hiking by herself somewhere far from any humans!
I visited Sagrada Familia during a weekend before I was off to hike the GR-5 trail in Catalonia. Saturday and Sunday are probably not the best days to visit, but it all doesn't matter when you are inside.
The magic of surrounding you beauty erases all possible frustrations or inconveniences. Before I went there, I knew a bit about the place - that it was designed by the famous Gaudi, that is still in progress, that it is unconventional and beautiful.
But reading about it and seeing with your own eyes is not the same. I tried to capture the magic with my camera... I hope I can convey at least some of its beauty to convince you to put Sagrada Familia on your Barcelona's itinerary.
Sagrada Familia: its history
It is hard to visit Barcelona and somehow ignore Antoni Gaudi. The most famous son of Barcelona (although he was born in Reus, he moved here in his youth) has transformed the city with his unique artistic vision.
Throughout the city, we can see many examples of his visionary approach to architecture. Below you can see just a few examples of buildings created according to his design.
Antoni Gaudi started his design of Sagrada Familia already in 1883, but many years had to pass before the construction could take shape.
For 43 years he worked on the design. In the beginning, he had to share his time between this and other work. But since 1914, he focused solely on designing Sagrada Familia sanctuary. For Antoni Gaudi, this project was not just another design.
As a man of faith, he must have found a deep spiritual meaning in the work. Slowly, bits and pieces started to be built. Unfortunately, Antoni Gaudi was not meant to see his project completed.
He died suddenly in 1926 in a result of an accident and thousands of people walked with him for the last goodbye. It showed what a tremendous respect Barcelona's residents had for him.
Antoni Gaudi's death didn't stop the construction but it progressed rather slowly. Domènec Sugrañes, who used to work closely with Gaudi, took over the management of the project.
The outbreak of the Civil War caused huge losses to the construction and many documents and materials were lost.
But the works continued. Year by year Sagrada Familia grew according to the original plans by Gaudi. In the year 2010, the building was officially consecrated for a place of worship by the Pope Benedict XVI
Sagrada Familia: Present Days
The plans are to complete the whole project by the year 2026. But don't worry - it does not mean it is not worth visiting before this year.
Although it is estimated that about 70% of the planned construction is already completed, the lacking 30 % is hardly felt when you step inside.
Each year, new elements are completed and opened to the public - all the more reasons to come back regularly and check on the changes!
Sagrada Familia: the Architecture and Symbolism
There are no accidents or unimportant details in Gaudi's design. As a deeply religious person, he wanted to merge architecture with Gospels.
Every architectural detail has the potential to teach something or remind about a particular aspect of Christian theology.
He said, The temple as a whole, as well being a place for divine worship, will artistically represent the truths of religion and the glorification of God and His Saints.
I won't even pretend that I am an expert on either architecture or Christian theology. That's why I am glad I can read about it and learn to understand the complexities of Gaudi's genius project.
During your visit, you may want to choose a guided tour to have a more educational visit. I chose not to, as I wanted to focus on the visuals only.
To give you a taste of how much thought and soul Antoni Gaudi has put into his design, I quote just a small passage from the official page of Sagrada Familia:
Gaudí’s conception of the Sagrada Familia was based on the traditions of Gothic and Byzantinecathedrals. His intention was to express Christian belief through the architecture and the beauty of the building and communicate the message of the Evangelists. He achieved a symbiosis between form and Christian iconography, with a personal architecture generated via new but thoroughly logical structures, forms and geometries inspired by nature, with light and colour also playing a central role.The meaning of the Sagrada Familia is communicated through the form and expressivity of its architecture and the iconography of its sculpture.The various architectural elements are imbued with hierarchically organised Christian symbolism. Thus, each of its 18 towers has a special significance. In the middle is the tower dedicated to Jesus Christ and around it are four towers representing the Gospels; the books containing the life and teachings of Jesus. The tower above the apse, crowned by a star, represents his mother the Virgin Mary, while the remaining 12 towers represent the 12 Apostles, witnesses to his words and deeds.From wherever they are seen, once finished, these 18 towers will be an extraordinary sight and provide a sense of elevation to the central tower dedicated to Jesus Christ.
I highly recommend visiting this page before your trip to prepare well and appreciate Gaudi's genius mind even more so.
Sagrada Familia: The beauty captured in .. pixels
I almost wrote "on a film" but those times seem to be behind us. I understand that photography cannot fully convey the beauty of Sagrada Familia but I hope they encourage you to book your ticket and battle the crowds.
Even for me, an atheist and a Jew, it was a truly meaningful experience. I can only imagine that for people of Christian faith, this must be a much deeper encounter.
Let me show you some of the photos I took. I divided them roughly into four categories.
Sagrada Familia: The Exterior - The Nativity façade
Multiple artists influenced the scenes picturing the birth of Jesus. I was surprised how many details there were and how much emotions you can see in those sculptures. This façade was the first completed, in the year 1930.
Sagrada Familia: The Exterior - The Passion façade
I think the sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs made the strongest impression on me. I loved the heavy yet striking shapes. Their austere and bare stone shapes are well suited for the subject they portray - human sins, the death of Jesus, betrayal, and pain.
Gaudi wanted them to be dramatic and to strike fear in people seeing them and Subirachs's work fulfills that goal very well.
Sagrada Familia: The Interior - Color and Light
This is my personal favorite. As someone who loves color and light, I couldn't be happier with what Gaudi has created.
The whole interior of Sagrada Familia is bathed in colorful light, flooding it through carefully designed stained glasses.
Sagrada Familia: The Interior - Lines and Shapes
At first glance, it all seems chaotic but soon chaos turns into a beautiful forest made of stone. I've read about Gaudi's inspiration with Nature and it is very clearly seen everywhere.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona: A few practical tips
How to get the tickets: online! Have it booked and ready to show at the entrance. The line to cashiers was crazy long! Just make sure you have the ticket ready with code for scanning. I forgot to do that and had to look for a free wi-fi to download the attachment from the confirmation e-mail. I do all the mistakes so you don't have to ;-) Just in case - there is a free wifi by the KFC restaurant :)
Prepare for a longer stay. Depends on your level of interest, there is a lot to see! In addition to the interior and exterior of Sagrada Familia, there are fascinating materials in the museum section. I highly recommend them. I could understand better the way Gaudi worked and how he designed the famous arches. If you want you may also buy a ticket to the towers - it was beyond my budget but I've heard it is well worth the price!
I went on a weekend and I highly discourage it. If you only can - try and go early in the morning (starting 9 am) on a weekday. This way you may just avoid the biggest crowds!
You may not use your tripod to take photos - unless you have a special permission from the Basilica. Similarly, you are not allowed to enter with professional photography equipment.
It is also worth reminding (especially if you travel in the hot summer) that modest clothing is required to enter Sagrada Familia.