- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
- Spanish Phrases
Mobile AppDownload Fodor's City Guide App for FREE!
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família Review
Barcelona's most emblematic architectural icon, Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família, is still under construction 130 years after it was begun. This striking and surreal creation was conceived as nothing short of a Bible in stone, a gigantic representation of the entire history of Christianity, and it continues to cause responses from surprise to consternation to wonder. No building in Barcelona and few in the world are more deserving of investing anywhere from a few hours to the better part of a day in getting to know it well. In fact, a quick visit can be more tiring than an extended one, as there are too many things to take in at once. However long your visit, it's a good idea to bring binoculars.
Looming over Barcelona like some magical mid-city massif of needles and peaks left by aeons of wind erosion and fungal exuberance, the Sagrada Família can at first seem like piles of caves and grottoes heaped on a labyrinth of stalactites, stalagmites, and flora and fauna of every stripe and spot. The sheer immensity of the site and the energy flowing from it are staggering. The scale alone is daunting: the current lateral facades will one day be dwarfed by the main Glory facade and central spire—the Torre del Salvador (Tower of the Savior), which will be crowned by an illuminated polychrome ceramic cross and soar to a final height 1 yard shorter than the Montjuïc mountain (564 feet) guarding the entrance to the port (Gaudí felt it improper for the work of man to surpass that of God). Today, for a €3 additional charge, you can take an elevator skyward to the top of the bell towers for some spectacular views. Back on the ground, visit the museum, which displays Gaudí's scale models; photographs showing the progress of construction; and images of Gaudí's multitudinous funeral. In fact, the architect is buried to the left of the altar in the crypt.
Soaring spikily skyward in intricately twisting levels of carvings and sculptures, part of the Nativity facade is made of stone from Montserrat, Barcelona's cherished mountain sanctuary and home of Catalonia's patron saint, La Moreneta, the Black Virgin of Montserrat. Gaudí himself was fond of comparing the Sagrada Família to the flutes and pipes of the sawtooth massif 50 km (30 mi) west of town, while a plaque in one of Montserrat's caverns reads "Lloc d'inspiració de gaudí" (Place of inspiration of Gaudí).
History of Construction and Design. "My client is not in a hurry," Gaudí was fond of replying to anyone curious about the timetable for the completion of his mammoth project... and it's a lucky thing, because the Sagrada Família was begun in 1882 under architect Francesc Villar, passed on in 1891 to Gaudí (who worked on the project until his death in 1926), and is still thought to be 15 or 20 years from completion, despite the ever-increasing velocity of today's computerized construction techniques. After the church's neo-Gothic beginnings, Gaudí added Art Nouveau touches to the crypt (the floral capitals) and in 1893 went on to begin the Nativity facade of a new and vastly ambitious project. Conceived as a symbolic construct encompassing the complete story and scope of the Christian faith, the Sagrada Família was intended by Gaudí to impact the viewer with the full sweep and force of the Gospel. For the last 15 years of his life, Gaudí became a recluse and took up residence in the church grounds. At the time of his death in 1926 only one tower of the Nativity facade had been completed.
Gaudí's plans called for three immense facades, the lateral (Nativity and Passion) facades presently visible on the northeast and southwest sides of the church, and the even larger Glory facade designed as the building's main entry, facing east over Carrer de Mallorca. The four bell towers over each facade would represent the 12 apostles, a reference to the celestial Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation, built upon the 12 apostles. The four larger towers around the central Tower of the Savior will represent the evangelists Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke. Between the central tower and the reredos at the northwestern end of the nave will rise the 18th and second-highest tower, crowned with a star, in honor of the Virgin Mary. The naves are not supported by buttresses but by treelike helicoidal (spiraling) columns. The first bell tower, in honor of Barnabas, the only one Gaudí lived to see, was completed in 1921. Presently there are eight towers standing: Barnabas, Simon, Judas, and Matthias (from left to right) over the Nativity facade and James, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Phillip over the Passion facade.
Meaning and Iconography. Reading the existing facades is a challenging course in Bible studies. The three doors on the Nativity facade are named for Charity in the center, Faith on the right, and Hope on the left. As explained by Joan Serra, onetime vicar of the parish of the Sagrada Família and devoted Gaudí scholar, the architect often described the symbology of his work to visitors although he never wrote any of it down. Thus, much of this has come directly from Gaudí via the oral tradition. In the Nativity facade Gaudí addresses nothing less than the fundamental mystery of Christianity: Why does God the Creator become, through Jesus Christ, a creature? The answer, as Gaudí explained it in stone, is that God did this to free man from the slavery of selfishness, symbolized by the iron fence around the serpent of evil (complete with an apple in his mouth) at the base of the central column of the Portal of Charity. The column is covered with the genealogy of Christ going back to Abraham. To the left is a sea tortoise at the base of the parabolic arch, while to the right is a land turtle with flora and fauna from Catalonia above and behind.
Above the central column is a portrayal of the birth of Christ; above that, the Annunciation is flanked by a grottolike arch of water in a solid state: ice, another element of nature. Overhead are the constellations in the Christmas sky at Bethlehem: if you look carefully you'll see two babies, representing the Gemini, and the horns of a bull, for Taurus.
To the right, the Portal of Faith, above Palestinian flora and fauna, shows scenes of Christ's youth: Jesus preaching at the age of 13 and Zacharias prophetically writing the name of John. Higher up are grapes and wheat, symbols of the Eucharist, and a sculpture of a hand and eye, symbols of divine providence.
The left-hand Portal of Hope begins at the bottom with flora and fauna from the Nile; the slaughter of the innocents; the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; Joseph, surrounded by his carpenter's tools, contemplating his son; the marriage of Joseph and Mary flanked by Mary's parents, the grandparents of Jesus, Joaquin and Anna. Above this is a sculpted boat with an anchor, representing the Church, piloted by St. Joseph assisted by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Overhead is a typical peak or spire from the Montserrat massif.
Gaudí, who carefully studied music, planned these slender towers to house a system of tubular bells (still to be created and installed) capable of playing more complete and complex music than standard bell-ringing changes had previously been able to perform. At a height of one-third of the bell tower are the seated figures of the apostles. The peaks of the towers represent the apostles' successors in the form of miters, the official headdress of a bishop of the Western Church.
The Passion facade on the Sagrada Família's southwestern side, over Carrer Sardenya and the Plaça de la Sagrada Família, is a dramatic contrast to the Nativity facade. Gaudí, whose plans called for nearly everything that appears on the Passion facade, intended to emphasize the abyss between the birth of a child and the crucifixion and death of a man. In 1986, Josep Maria Subirachs (Barcelona 1927), was chosen by project director Jordi Bonet to finish the Passion facade. Subirachs was picked for his starkly realistic, almost geometrical, sculptural style, which matched Gaudí's artistic intent for the Passion facade even though his personal sculptural idiom was entirely distinct. Choosing an artist with such radically different ideas and aesthetics from those of the Sagrada Família's creator was a daring move by the project's directors, though finding a modern-day iconoclast as original and independent as Gaudí severely limited choices. Subirachs currently has a studio and living quarters (granted for life) in the Sagrada Família.
Subirachs pays double homage to the great Moderniste master in the Passion facade: Gaudí himself appears over the left side of the main entry, making notes or drawings, the evangelist in stone, while the Roman soldiers farther out and above are modeled on Gaudí's helmeted, Star Wars-like warriors from the roof of La Pedrera.
Framed by leaning tibialike columns, the bones of the dead, and following an S-shape path across the Passion facade, the scenes represented begin at the lower left with the Last Supper. The faces of the disciples are contorted in confusion and dismay, especially that of Judas, clutching his bag of money behind his back over the figure of a reclining hound, symbol of fidelity in contrast with the disciple's perfidy. The next sculptural group to the right represents the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter awakening, followed by the kiss of Judas. The square numerical cryptogram behind contains 16 numbers offering a total of 310 combinations all adding up to 33, the age of Christ at his death.
In the center, Jesus is lashed to a pillar during his flagellation, a tear track carved into his expressive countenance. Note the column's top stone out of kilter, reminder of the stone soon to be removed from Christ's sepulcher. The knot and the broken reed on the base of the pillar symbolize the physical and psychological suffering in Christ's captivity and scourging. Look for the fossil imbedded in the stone on the back left corner of the pedestal, taken by Sagrada Família cognoscenti as an impromptu symbol of the martyr's ultimate victory. To the right of the door are a rooster and Peter, who is lamenting his third denial of Christ "ere the cock crows." Farther to the right are Pilate and Jesus with the crown of thorns, while just above, starting back to the left, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with the cross after his first fall.
Over the center is the representation of Jesus consoling the women of Jerusalem (cf., Book of Revelation): "Don't cry for me; cry for your children..." and a faceless (because her story is considered legendary, not historical fact) St. Veronica with the veil she gave Christ to wipe his face with on the way to Calvary. It was said to be miraculously imprinted with his likeness. The veil is torn in two overhead, and covers a mosaic that Subirachs disliked and elected to conceal. To the left is the likeness of Gaudí taking notes, and farther to the left is the equestrian figure of a centurion piercing the side of the church with his spear, the church representing the body of Christ. Above are the soldiers rolling dice for Christ's clothing and the naked, crucified Christ at the center. The moon to the right of the crucifixion refers to the darkness at the moment of Christ's death and to the full moon of Easter; to the right are Peter and Mary at the sepulcher, Mary with an egg overhead symbolizing the resurrection of Christ. At Christ's feet is a figure with a furrowed brow, perhaps suggesting the agnostic's anguished search for certainty. It is thought to be a self-portrait of Subirachs, characterized by the sculptor's giant hand and an "S" on his right arm.
Over the door will be the church's 16 prophets and patriarchs under the cross of salvation. Apostles James, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Phillip appear at a height of 148 feet on their respective bell towers. Thomas, the apostle who demanded proof of Christ's resurrection (thus the expression "doubting Thomas"), is visible pointing to the palm of his hand, asking to inspect Christ's wounds. Bartholomew, on the left, is turning his face upward toward the culminating element in the Passion facade, the 26-foot-tall gold metallic representation of the resurrected Christ on a bridge between the four bell towers at a height of 198 feet.
Future of the project. Architect Jordi Bonet, 81, director of the work on the Sagrada Família, is the son of one of Gaudí's assistants and remembers playing among the rocks and rubble of the construction site as a child. (Indeed, with Bonet's brother Lluís as head parish priest, the Sagrada Família is virtually a family project.) On Saint Joseph's day, March 19, 2007, the 125th anniversary of the laying of the first stone of a project initially instigated by a society dedicated to Saint Joseph, the Bonet brothers presided over a celebratory mass. The apse finished for the November 2010 Papal consecration, has space for 15,000 people, a choir loft for 1,500, and occupies an area large enough to encompass the entire Santa Maria del Mar basilica. The towers still to be completed over the apse include those dedicated to the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the Virgin Mary, and the highest of all, dedicated to Christ the Savior. By 2022, the 170th anniversary of the birth of Gaudí, the great central tower and dome, resting on four immense columns of Iranian porphyry, considered the hardest of all stones, will soar to a height of 564 feet, making the Sagrada Família Barcelona's tallest building. By 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death, after 144 years of construction in the tradition of the great medieval and Renaissance cathedrals of Europe, the Sagrada Família may well be complete enough to call finished. The projected esplanade east of the Glory Facade entails the removal of a block of apartments, constructed in the early 1970s with the understanding that, eventually, expropriations and demolition would ensue. Carrer Mallorca will go underground. This major urban re-engineering is predicted to be completed by 2030.
A major celebration, if not an entire year of festivities, is likely for 2026, by which time the line from John (13:27) carved into a corner of the Passion facade by Josep Maria Subirachs, who like the Bonet brothers, is currently in his late seventies, will have even more poignancy: "El que estás fent, fes-ho de pressa" (Whatever you are doing, do it in a hurry).
- Address: Pl. de la Sagrada Família, Eixample, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08013 | Map It
- Phone: 93/207-3031
- Cost: €13, (17 with audioguide) bell-tower elevator €3
- Hours: Oct.--Mar., daily 9--6; Apr.--Sept., daily 9--8
- Website: www.sagradafamilia.org
- Metro Sagrada Família.
- Location: The Eixample
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $2149 -- 7-Night All-Inclusive European Cruise in Suite MSC Cruises
- $399 & up -- Fall 7-Night Mediterranean Cruises — $399 MSC Cruises
- $849 & up -- Mediterranean 7-Night Summer Cruise — $849 Royal Caribbean
- $649 & up -- 7-Night Roundtrip Spain Cruise in Spring — $649 Royal Caribbean
- $649 & up -- Weeklong Italy & France Cruise in Summer — $649 Royal Caribbean
Above is a blog that I hope will be entertaining and helpful to anyone who might be interested in backpacking across the continent. This is specifically for anyone who's Read more
And we're off! Read more
We have time for a day trip from Madrid to either Toledo or to Cuenca. Read more
· News & Features
Just because this sensuous Mediterranean city epitomizes Catalonian cool doesn't mean it's unsuitable ... Read more
When Hollywood came calling, these 10 hotels were ready for their close-ups.... Read more
Like the rest of Spain (and, really Europe), Barcelona lights up during the holidays with festive displays... Read more