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The mystery of the Sagrada Família

If there’s one person who has left an indelible mark on the city of Barcelona, it’s the architect Antonio Gaudí (1852). His absolute masterpiece is the world-renowned basilica, La Sagrada Família. Although construction started in 1882, the church has yet to be completed. Incredibly, perhaps, it’ll be another thirty years before the building is finished. The Sagrada Família does already include a museum on the design and work to be realised over the coming years.

The building of the church was aimed at boosting the Catholic faith and stopping the decline in congregations. Industrialisation and increasing wealth had caused in Barcelona’s church pews to gradually empty. Architect Francisco de Paula de Villar designed a neo-Gothic church of which construction was started in 1882. A year later, the modernist architect Antoni Gaudí took over the helm at the tender age of 31. Gaudí devoted a large part of his life to building ‘his’ Sagrada Família. With the emphasis on ‘his’, as Gaudí drastically changed the original design. He swept the neo-Gothic style off the table, exchanging it for his own characteristic nature-based modernistic style. When Gaudí died in 1926, just one facade, one spire, the apse and the crypt had been completed.

Eighteen spires

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

As Gaudí was constantly improvising during the build, very few plans and scale models of the basilica exist. Architects nevertheless have a good idea of Gaudí’s intentions. The last version of his design consisted of a church that would be 95 metres long and 60 metres wide, providing space for some 13,000 people. After completion, the Sagrada Família will have a total of eighteen spires. With heights of 90 to 120 metres, four spires along each of its three facades represent the twelve apostles. Another four spires represent the gospel writers. They will be placed around the main spire with a length of 170 metres, dedicated to Jesus Christ. The final spire, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be built over the apse.

Gaudí’s crypt

After Gaudí’s death, the building work was seriously disrupted due to a lack of funds and the Spanish Civil War. It wasn’t until the 1950s that construction continued again at full pace, and in 2000 the roof was placed on the central nave. Current activities involve the nave and main facade. Although the Sagrada Família is far from finished, parts of it are accessible to the public, including the crypt, where Gaudí is buried, and the museum. If you aren’t afraid of heights or cramped spaces, you can also visit the spires. A lift or long climb will lead you to the top, with gorgeous views over Barcelona as a reward. The Sagrada Família is beautifully illuminated at night, when it becomes apparent why the building style is often compared to a church made of bones.

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