Newest Review: ... earlier this year and was fortunate enough to visit this building. I have to say I wasn't expecting it to be as astonishing as I found... more
Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece
Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)
Member Name: ms_123
Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)
Advantages: Stunning building, intricate carvings, unusual design
Disadvantages: Can get crowded and is sometimes difficult to get in.
**Who was Antoni Gaudi?**
I must admit that prior to visiting Barcelona for the first time a few years ago I had not heard of Antoni Gaudi. However a friend recommended visiting the Gaudi houses when I was out there on my first visit and I must admit these were the highlight of my trip. For those that don't know who Antoni Gaudi was - he was a 19th century architect who became renowned for his unique and innovative style of buildings. Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature and many aspects of his design have an 'organic' feel, curved and flowing rather than straight and rigid. Another distinction of his style was the use of smashed up colourful ceramics to create mosaics, which decorate his creations.
The Sagrada Familia is a church, located close to the city centre and is easy to get to on the metro system. The nearest station, unsurprisingly, is 'Sagrada Familia', a two-minute walk away. The church is open daily between 9am and 6pm in the winter months (October to March) and 9am and 8pm during the summer. Entrance is 9.50 euros to enter the main church and museum. For an additional 3 euros it is possible to take a lift to the top of the spires, from which you can get some fantastic views over Barcelona. It is also possible to opt for a guided tour and this costs a bit more. I opted to tour the church myself as well as go up the spires. The ticket I received for the spires had the time at which I should go to the lift to go up the spires. I think this was a good idea as it meant I didn't have to spend ages queuing up and instead I could wander freely and just turn up when it was time for me to go up.
As mentioned above, the church is yet unfinished - Gaudi died unexpectedly in 1926 whilst it was being built, being knocked down by a tram, partway through its construction. For the last 80 years or so various sculptors and architects have added their own touches to Gaudi's design. The work has been financed by the 100,000 or so visitors who come by each year and the project is estimated to be completed by 2030. The church is a permanent construction site and from the outside it is possible to see scaffolding near the spires and inside, builders with hard-hats working away.
**The two fašades and interior**
As soon as you pass the ticket desk you enter the church's' courtyard. The outside of the church itself has two quite distinct designs. The side of the church closest to the ticket desk is known as the 'Passion fašade'. It was started in 1978 and completed in 2002 and was designed by architect Josep Subirachs. The carvings on this fašade represent the pain and sacrifice of Jesus. The design is quite distinct and the sculptures that have been carved out of the stone are sharp, angular and almost robotic. There was quite a lot of detail captured and various scenes including the centrepiece, which was the crucification of Christ. As you head towards the door there is a cryptogram that has been carved into the stone. Each of the rows and columns in the cryptogram add up to 33, the age of Christ when he died.
Passing through the main doors leads you into the main body of the church. It is here that Gaudi's love of nature becomes apparent. The interior consists of many pillars leading up to the ceiling but the way they are arranged I thought made them look almost skeletal. In fact they are inspired by redwood trees and together form a kind of 'stone forest'. There were also several highly decorated stained glass windows with pretty orange, green and blue glass with shapes arranged in a distinctive abstract kind of pattern.
Passing through the church leads you to the second fašade at the back. This is known as the Nativity fašade and was designed by Gaudi himself. The contrast between the two facades could not be greater. Whereas the front was sharp and angular in style the back is fluid and dynamic. Gaudi's inspiration by nature could not be more apparent and almost every inch of this fašade is carved out with plants and animals. The two main pillars are supported by giant turtles that have been carved out in the stone. Amidst these carvings of plants and animals there are sculptors that also tell the story of Christ, from the wedding of Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus, the visiting three wise men and Jesus at work. This fašade also contrasts with the one at the front in that it focuses on the happier aspects of Jesus's life.
The carvings on this fašade were so detailed and intricate that I couldn't help but stand and marvel at Gaudi's skill and vision. At the time some of the shapes that Gaudi had designed and carved were pioneering, curves and waves that had never before been attempted. I stood at this fašade for a good 10 to 15 minutes looking at the immense detail in the carvings. Each time I looked at a particular area I would spot something new, such was the detail, and I could have stood there for hours gazing up at this work of a genius. The figures that were carved out were more human-like, in contrast to those on the Passion fašade. They were amazingly life-like and I couldn't help but smirk at one that bore an uncanny resemblance to Richard Branson! (photo on Ciao) My neck soon began to ache though so I wandered on.
Leading on from this fašade is a door to the crypt museum. Gaudi is actually buried here and his tomb is visible from the museum. In the museum there are drawings of Gaudi's original design and also sketches that Josep Subirachs has made of his designs. It is also possible to see into a workshop where plaster models of various parts of the church, both old and those not yet made, can be seen. This I thought was really interesting and showed the immense skill involved in carving such parts.
**A rooftop adventure**
After visiting the museum it was time for me to go up the spires. I arrived at the lift and waited for about a minute before being taken up by a guide, in a small lift along with 3 other visitors. The lift was quite fast and it took us around 30 seconds to reach the top. From here we were able to walk across part of the rooftop, between the spires, and make our way down the spiral staircase. The spires were really pretty, decorated with hundreds of pieces of smashed up ceramics. The views from the top were spectacular and I could see for miles over all of Barcelona. We were very high up though and I wouldn't recommend going up there if you have a fear of heights!
The spiral staircases, which we had to use to come down were really quite steep and narrow. Their helicoidal design reminded me of a snails shell or a strand of DNA - another influence from nature. Looking down from the side, the helix seemed to stretch on forever. If you do intend to go up the spires I would recommend wearing a good pair of shoes as it is a long way down and quite tiring! The space between the two walls of the staircase is very small and there is only enough room for one person to go down and so we were all climbing down in a single file. After a while I found it did start to get quite claustrophobic. I have quite a petite frame and made it down quite comfortably but a couple of people in front of me had a slightly larger frame and did at times find it a bit of a tight squeeze! As the walk is so long and quite tight I would also not recommend taking young children up to the top. I believe it's also possible to climb up to the top rather than take the lift but I think that should only be considered if you're super fit! There are little windows on the way down that you can look out of and see the views outside.
I enjoyed my visit immensely and think it was certainly worth the three-year wait! As I look through my photos I still can't help but be blown away by the sheer detail and skill involved in creating Gaudi's work. I'm sure I shall find myself in Barcelona again at some point and if so I shall certainly be visiting the Sagrada Familia again to see how the work has progressed. If you're heading over to Barcelona this should be at the top of your list of places to visit!
This review has also been posted on Ciao along with some photos.
Summary: Put it on top of your 'to do' list if visiting Barcelona
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