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Checking Progress at the Sagrada Familia

August 27th, 2016 · No Comments · France, Spain, tourism, Travel

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Far as I am concerned, first thing you do when visiting Barcelona is go to the northeast corner of the city and see how things are coming with the construction of the basilica known as the Sagrada Familia.

Yes, even before making the pilgrimage over to the city’s great earthly structure, the football club’s Camp Nou stadium.

Have a look. Does it remind you a bit of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz?

The Sagrada Familia (sacred family) is Antoni Gaudi‘s great project, combining Gothic and Art Nouveau styles to create the most interesting church in Christendom in, lo, these many years. A church which also will be the tallest religious building in Europe, upon completion.

They’ve been at it for a while now. Since 1982, actually, and an optimistic time frame has been proposed for completion of the magnificent building — 2026. Just around the corner!

An ambitious young architect in 19th century Barcelona, Gaudi took charge of the church project in 1883 and almost immediately ramped up the size and ambitions at the site. He remained in charge until 1926, when he sustained fatal injuries when struck by a tram.

The pace of construction has picked up significantly over the past few decades. I saw the place in 1992, while covering the Barcelona Olympics, and it had a long way to go. I am pretty sure the main walls were not up yet, back then.

However, fairly constant money problems apparently eased in the 1980s, my tour guide said, and towers have been going up like crazy. Well, by Sagrada Familia standards.

The biggest bits still remaining are six of the 18 towers — four of them dedicated to the evangelists, one to Mary and the sixth, the tallest (at 560 feet), to Jesus.

Some of the interior work also remains unfinished; most of the altar area was off limits for tourists, behind a wooden wall.

Gaudi believed it was important to demonstrate nature’s roll in building, and the nave of the church is bathed in light from stained glass meant to replicate the blues and greens of a forest sunrise, on the east side of the building, and glass stained red and yellow, on the west side, meant to represent sunset.

The pillars inside are meant to look like very tall trees. The doors have leaves of ivy (made of stone) on them, and among the leaves are several insects.

It is an astounding building, one that has driven many who have seen it to a violent opinion, one way or another. Some believe it to be an eyesore. George Orwell famously said anarchists who ransacked the place during the Spanish Civil War missed a chance to blow it up.

Others are convinced the Sagrada Familia is a particularly important and ground-breaking building that also is a church.

One notion I had, while on the tour, and also while sitting on a bench built into a wall in the nave … is that the outside of the church is where the really interesting stuff is.

Each side of the building is themed (Jesus’s birth, passion, etc.) and enormous stone statues cut into the facades show important incidents in Christian history with particularly bold statuary.

The inside, once you get past the sunrise/sunset stained glass, is not as revolutionary. Interesting, you bet, but like nothing you have ever seen … well, that’s the stuff on the outside of the walls.

I hope to get more updates of the church in the coming years. Where we live, in southern France, is barely more than two hours, by train, from Barcelona. I saw it as part of a stay of about 27 hours.

It’s that easy to visit. If/when we go back to Barcelona, now recognized as one of the great cities of Europe, I will hail a cab and see what Gaudi and his successors have been up to at the Sagrada Familia.


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