We arrived at the cathedral and immediately saw the long queue for tickets. We were well prepared for this because even the Lonely Planet says that if you have only time for one sightseeing outing, this is the place to see. The line moved quickly and we were inside within a half hour. While we were waiting, I reviewed the description of the cathedral in our guidebook and this is what I learned.
Gaudi dedicated that latter years of his life to this massive project; construction began over 100 years ago, and it isn’t expected to be complete for another 20 to 30 years. We saw the huge cranes overhead but we were unprepared for the state of the interior. The cathedral was designed in the shape of a cross with the capacity to hold 13,000 worshippers. The semi-circular apse was the first part to be completed (in 1894) but the interior remains a building site to this day. The plan calls for three major facades, the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory. There are will be four huge towers above each of the facades, the total twelve representing the apostles. The five remaining planned towers with represent the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Christ. The Christ tower is slated to be a massive 170m symbol of the Christian church.
We arrived at the gate closest to the Passion Façade. Here we see the last days of Christ’s life, from the Last Supper to his burial. This façade was built in the 1950s by a sculptor who did not even attempt to emulate Gaudi’s work. He has created angular figures in stone that have been very controversial. It’s a love ‘em, or hate ‘em debate, I happened to like them, but I hadn’t seen any of Guadi’s work at this point.
We entered the cathedral through the Passion façade with two stained-glass windows on either side. The sun was streaming through the glass and the colours lit up the interior. We were surprised to see a great deal of dust inside; it was then that it really hit us, the extent to which the construction still continues. Huge tree-like columns soar to the ceiling, high overhead. The apse was closed to visitors and draping hung from the scaffolding above us in an attempt to limit the dust filtering in. Dozens of men carried on working as if no one was there. We read that during the week, there are at least 300 people actively working on the project at any given time.
We passed to the rear of the cathedral, walking within hoarding that prevented anyone from entering the worksite. We continued on to the opposite side and exited out into the sunshine under the Passion façade. When we turned to look up, we were introduced to Gaudi’s vision in all its glory. This is the best example of his artistic vision, as it was mostly completed under his direct supervision. The four towers soaring overhead are designed to each hold tubular bells. Below the towers, the birth and childhood of Christ are portrayed. The three sections of the portal are meant to represent Faith, Hope and Charity. The manger scene is depicted in a sea of sculptures on the Charity portal. One can make out the shepherds, kings, animals and even angels playing trumpets high above the Holy Family.
After standing in awe for some time, we joined a queue in order to take an elevator into one of the tall bell towers for a look at the construction of the exterior of the building as well as a view of Barcelona itself. The signs warn visitors of narrow, winding stairs on the descent and suggest that people who suffer from vertigo should reconsider. I decided to take the risk, and put on my travel bands to counteract the feeling of motion sickness the experience was sure to bring on.
The views of the city were well worth the extra fee to ride the elevator and it was incredible to see the massive construction work being done on the roof of the cathedral. For the first time, we were introduced to Gaudi’s fascination with ceramic tile, something he loved to add to the roofs of many of his buildings. As we climbed down the winding staircase, we took peeks over the curving stone railing and marveled at how it resembled the curve of a shell from the sea.
Once we were back on solid ground we proceeded to the museum under the cathedral to learn more about Gaudi himself and to study the drawings, models and moulds he created in order to bring about his masterpiece. We learned that he was sickly as a child and could not take part in active play with other boys his age. His mother helped him to pass the time by taking him into the garden and the forest and taught him to study the plants and animals at close range.
He became fascinated with the forms of nature and it left am impression that coloured his artistic and architectural creations. It is not by accident that the columns in the cathedral appear to be massive trees, or that the towers are adorned with ceramic pinnacles that resemble fruits of the four seasons. Animals of all shapes and sizes are sculpted in stone and are to be seen everywhere on Gaudi’s creations.
We left La Sagrada Familia inspired by the work of this revolutionary architect, and determined to see more of his buildings, some of which are the most visited monuments in all of Spain.