We Spoke to the ‘Anguished’ Barcelona Residents Fighting to Prevent the Completion of Gaudí’s Famed Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia is the best known landmark in Barcelona, with its crown of magnificent towers punctuating the city’s skyline. The intricate gothic design was modernized with the Art Nouveau pizzaz typical of its maker, the visionary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. With construction starting 140 years ago in 1882, the church’s millions of annual visitors are often surprised to learn that it so far remains uncompleted.
As for local residents, however, it is said that most have given up hope of seeing the finished basilica in their lifetimes. The project has been delayed over the decades invariably by civil war, underfunding (progress has predominantly relied on private donors), conservation, and lengthy permit applications. A completion year of 2026—the centenary of Gaudí’s death—was finally suggested in 2019, but this optimistic target was also thrown off course by the pandemic.
Not everyone has been disappointed by these interruptions, however, as the basilica’s completion is not welcomed equally by all the city’s inhabitants. As anyone who has been forced to live in close proximity to building works for an extended period might understand, a growing movement of locals have grievances about the construction. Those who have the most at stake? The 3,000 residents of an apartment block that will have to be razed in order to realize Gaudí’s vision for the grand entrance of the building.
Sagrada Familia. Photo by Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images.
A Hail Mary for the Glory Facade
Gabriel Mercadal Prats has lived in the immediate area of El Poblet with his family since 1982, and is an active member of the Association of Neighbors of the Sagrada Familia (Associació de Veïns i Veïnes Sagrada Familia), a group formed to help local residents raise their voices on the topic. Although he has heard endless complaints from his neighbors about the noise, which he told Artnet News has sometimes continued into the night, “the concern, even the anguish, is related not to the ongoing construction, but to the final development of the works,” he said.
Prats is referring primarily to a sprawling staircase that would complete the grand entrance of the building’s Glory facade on Mallorca Street. These steps would reach over the street, allowing traffic to pass underneath, and spread out, reaching towards the parallel Valencia Street. Gaudí imagined this structure long before the apartment block was built directly opposite the basilica, between these two parallel streets.
Desperate residents are clinging to hope that they can save their homes by arguing that the elaborate Glory facade was not even part of Gaudí’s original plans. Their argument, which has formed the basis for a lawsuit filed against the city council, hinges on the fact that a fire destroyed the architect’s original papers. Gaudí’s intentions have been pieced together and inferred from surviving photos, preliminary sketches and the claims of his assistants, and the Glory facade’s staircase is one of the more contentious elements of this reconstruction.
“We can confirm that Gaudí’s idea was that people arrive to the church by walking among the houses so it would be integrated into the urban web,” explained Prats of what little can be verified about Gaudí’s vision for the Glory facade. “The only aspect to respect [in that case] would be the visibility of the building.”
Though it might seem tenuous, their argument already has legal precedent. It was first deployed in 1975 by the property developers Nuñez y Navarro during a legal battle with the Junta del Templo, a foundation that oversees the Sagrada Familia. The developers won their case, which allowed them to go ahead with building residential houses on the site.
Just a year later, however, a new mayor took office and unfurled a new urban master plan for the city, which reinstated the understanding that the staircase was to be built as part of the complete Sagrada Familia, regardless of what demolition it might require.
The towers of the evangelists Lluc and Marc are lit for the first time at the Sagrada Familia, thus commemorating the completion of its construction in Barcelona, Spain, on December 16, 2022. Photo: Marc Asensio/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
A District, Not a Theme Park
Salvador Barroso Moreno, a lawyer who has also lived in the neighborhood for over thirty years, describes the staircases proposed dimensions as “completely out of place” in today’s city. Speaking to Artnet News, he expressed a vitriol for the landmark which is shared by many locals. “I doubt that the Sagrada Familia is good for Barcelona. The city has other much more interesting monuments,” he said, mentioning Gaudís Casa Batlló and the Hospital de Sant Pau, another modernist building. “These have not received the same marketing and publicity as the Sagrada Familia.”
It has hardly helped local residents warm to the basilica that it is now a tourist hotspot. Frustration about the overwhelming influx of visitors is a gripe that resounds across the city of Barcelona, which has seen rental prices shoot up in response to the popularity of Airbnb, less space on sidewalks and public transport, and the booming business for restaurants, bars and souvenir shops at the expense of other endeavors.
The district of El Poblet was a rustic village when construction began on the Sagrada Familia. “It has been transformed into a theme park,” said Prats. “We want a district for living. Our opinion is that the only acceptable tourist should be one that respects local life and who comprehends our beautiful city.”
A tour bus outside the Sagrada Familia. Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
An Alternative Proposal
The Association of Neighbors has been undertaking what Prat termed “vindictive actions,” to try and halt progress on the monument. Eight years ago they attempted to propose to the then-mayor Xavier Trias an alternate, compromised version of the plans for the entrance that would reduce the width of a proposed avenue that would lead up to the staircase and glory facade from 60 to 50 meters, preserving a significant number of the surrounding homes.
Although they felt Trias to be a sympathetic ear, all this changed when Ada Colau became mayor of the city in 2015. Prats alleges that the city council negotiated with the Junta del Templo without even consulting the Association, effectively giving it the all clear to continue work on the basilica (including the Glory facade) by issuing a construction permit in exchange for a financial contribution intended to help combat the negative effects of tourism on the district.
Prats said the locals felt “isolated and irritated,” and not long after another association, the Association of Neighbors Affected by the Construction of the Sagrada Familia (Afectats pel Temple), was born. Barroso Moreno claims that this permit is also what triggered the neighbors’ lawsuit against the council, citing that the Glory facade may not be part of Gaudí’s original plans.
Sagrada Familia on the Barcelona skyline. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images.
So What Next?
Progress towards some sort of resolution for the residents was made in early 2020 during a meeting between the city council and nine interested organizations, including both neighborhood associations and the Junta del Templo. The meeting on March 5 established four key points to consider: respect towards housing rights, the maintenance of public facilities and green areas, tourism control, and the completion of the basilica.
But what little advances were made were soon derailed by the pandemic. According to Prats, the meetings never started up again after lockdown, “in spite of our insistence.”
Still, some hope emerged in the spring of last year when the city council allegedly summoned both associations to a meeting with Janet Sanz, a councillor specializing in Ecology, Urbanism, Infrastructures and Mobility, and the council’s chief architect Javier Matilla. The associations agreed with three alternate urban plans that were proposed as possible compromises between all the interested parties, leaving the council to negotiate with the Junta del Templo. The council has since proposed a fourth plan that Prats says is “even better than the previous three.” He was unable to reveal more information yet about any of these favorable proposals, which are confidential, but claims they have not yet been approved by the Junta—which has historically been loathe to compromise on what it understands to be Gaudí’s original vision.
Any chance of a quick decision being made has been delayed by the forthcoming municipal elections on May 28, which locals believe will play a hand in determining whose interests are eventually prioritized. According to Prats, most residents are hoping for a win for either Colau, of the left-wing party Comuns, or Ernest Maragall, of the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia). Meanwhile Jaume Collboni, of the center-left PSC (Socialists’ Party of Catalonia), would be the worst case scenario said Prats. “His sympathies go to the maximum progress of tourism, not to the neighbors’ problems.”
A representative for Barcelona’s city council confirmed to Artnet News that meetings have been taking place with all the interested parties “to reach the maximum possible consensus” on “a situation that is complex and where there are legitimate interests that are obviously distant.”
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Amazing Facts about Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
If you’re looking for a stunning sight to take in a while in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia is the place to go. With its 18th-century architecture and beautiful grounds, it’s no wonder this religious complex has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. But what you might not know is that there are a lot of secrets to Sagrada Familia that you may not have heard about. Here are some amazing facts about the famous basilica that will make you want to stay awhile.
10 amazing facts about Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
It’s been under construction for over a century
It may come as a surprise but it is among some of the oldest buildings in the world to be still under construction. The construction of Sagrada Familia started in 1882. The architect Gaudi had designed such a magnificent structure but it was evident that he would die before it was finished. Currently, builders are expecting to complete construction in 2026.
Gaudi was buried there
Antoni Gaudi was the mastermind behind this project and just a few days after he was hit by a tram, he passed away. They buried his body on the underground level in a tomb and visitors from any part of the world can see it whenever they visit. Gaudí’s tomb is held in the chapel dedicated to the El Carmen Virgin.
It used to be the site of a school
In the early construction years of the structure, Gaudi built a school called the Sagrada Familia Schools building. The school was for the construction workers’ children. Designed in 1909, currently, the school is an exhibition of the Sagrada Familia.
It’s a man-made masterpiece that is inspired by nature
Antoni Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature when constructing the structure. It is quite contradictory because the majority of cathedral buildings have straight designs. He skilfully designed the structure from what he saw in nature.
Builders of the Sagrada Familia are immortalized in stone
To honor all those who worked tirelessly in building the Sagrada Familia, they had to embed the faces of the builders within the stone of the building.
It’s the tallest religious building in Europe
One outstanding feature of this structure is its height. He designed the central tower to be approximately 170 meters. He believed that nothing made by man should be taller than God’s creation, for this reason, it is one meter shorter than the mountain of Barcelona, Montjuïc.
La Sagrada Familia is an UNESCO World heritage site
La Sagrada Familia is a building that Gaudí masterfully designed and, despite not being finished, UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site in 1984 because of its unique architecture and how Gaudí created something so artistic and innovative.
The interior pillars resemble trees and, when looking up, the shapes of the pillars change as do those of the trees. Gaudí designed images of a turtle and tortoise on these pillars to represent the water and earth.
It’s no longer a cathedral
It is interesting to know when the building started. It was meant to be a simple Roman Catholic Church. Later on, things changed and it became a cathedral. However, when Pope Benedict XVI declared it as a Basilica, it stopped being a cathedral.
There are elevators inside
For such a tall building, having elevators inside is such a good thing. However, it may surprise you because of how thin the towers are! Nonetheless, visitors can see the highest and lowest parts of the structure with the elevators.
If you are a lover of Sagrada Familia building, do not miss the post we wrote about the best viewpoints in Barcelona in which you can get an exclusive view of La Sagrada Familia.
Where to stay in Barcelona
If you want to enjoy all these curiosities about the Sagrada Familia, we recommend staying at the Catalonia Sagrada Familia hotel, located a few meters from the center and 15 minutes walk from the basilica.
It has free wifi, a swimming pool to cool off after visiting the city and a free fitness room for guests.
Barcelona with children – where to go and what to see with a child
Exploring the main attractions of the city can become even more exciting if you combine it with some activities. When traveling with an older child, you can invite him to participate in a group or private tour on e-scooters or bicycles. As part of such an excursion, you will need to follow a guide who will make a special route that allows you to see the most interesting places in Barcelona during the trip. The child will definitely enjoy such leisure.
City tour by bike or e-scooter © Littleaom / Shutterstock
For a fun and intimate experience of the Catalan capital’s gastronomic culture, take your little one to a cooking class to cook one of Spain’s traditional dishes . Most often, such events teach how to cook paella, various seafood delicacies, tapas, cookies, as well as other snacks and desserts. Such family leisure will bring a lot of impressions, help develop new skills in a child and will be remembered for a long time.
Fresh shrimp, garlic shrimp, mussels, squid, octopus and scallops © Mironov Vladimir / Shutterstock
Other fun activities for kids in Barcelona
In addition to all of the above, there are several other places in Barcelona that every child will be interested in visiting. Be sure to add them to your must see list so you don’t miss out on the most popular locations for kids.
Tourists in front of the Sagrada Familia © Alliance Images / Shutterstock
Barcelona Aquarium is dedicated to the study and conservation of the fauna of the Mediterranean. Its giant tanks are home to about 11,000 fish, polyps and jellyfish, as well as several species of sharks. Passing through the 80-meter glass tunnel, you can see toothy predators swimming overhead. Especially for children, they created the Sleep with Sharks program here. For a fee, you can stay in the aquarium after closing and watch how the sharks behave after dark. Please bring a sleeping bag, pajamas and a flashlight with you. True, you need to book tickets for this event in advance.
Barcelona Aquarium © Fotokon / Shutterstock
Taking the kids to the beach is one of the must-dos when visiting sunny Barcelona. Warm waves, sand castles, games and lots of ice cream are just what a child needs to leave the warmest memories of the city in their memory. Several locations are perfect for families. For example, Barceloneta beach is equipped with playgrounds, football and volleyball fields. There are many cafes and shops on its territory. Another good option is Nova Ikaria beach, which also has all the necessary infrastructure. Nearby are a green park with playgrounds and children’s exercise equipment, a cinema and a shopping center. You can also relax with a child on the beaches of Bogatell, San Miguel and Sant Sebastia.
Barcelona beach © Sunny studio / Shutterstock
Barcelona beach © Santiago Cornejo / Shutterstock
At the city zoo, a child can see more than 300 species of animals in their natural habitat. Instead of cages, there are ditches with water and small fences. This allows pets to feel comfortable, and visitors to get a better view of the local inhabitants. The territory of the park is divided into thematic zones. Of the rare species of animals, you can meet the Borneo orangutan, the Rothschild giraffe, the pygmy hippopotamus, the Iberian wolf, the guanaco, the blue macaw and the spotted hyena. And the terrarium is home to various amphibians and reptiles. Also on the territory of the zoo there are several restaurants and cafes where you can have a bite to eat after a walk.
Pink Flamingos at the Zoo © Emma Forsyth 88 / Shutterstock
One of Barcelona’s most striking and spectacular sights is the singing fountain show, which captivates from the first seconds. More than 3 thousand huge jets of water, coming to life, begin to “dance” to the sounds of famous musical works, and at nightfall they are illuminated with all the colors of the rainbow. Watching such a performance will be interesting for both a child and an adult. To add a little more magic to this action, invite the kid to throw a coin into the fountain, making a wish. The magic show lasts about half an hour, you can watch it for free. The main fountain is visible far enough, and there are several points with a good view in the vicinity.
Magic Fountains © Boule / Shutterstock
Transbordador Aeri del Port Cable Car
A favorite attraction that gives you a bird’s eye view of Barcelona. The cable car connects the Old Port of the city and the beach of Barceloneta with Montjuic. The ride begins with an elevator that goes up to the top of the tower. And then – impressive panoramas of the city and the sea await you. In 7 minutes of the road, you can see the port with yachts and huge liners, beaches and the central buildings of the city, which from afar resemble toy houses. The child will be delighted with such a mini-journey.
Transbordador Aeri del Port © Alexander Schmitz / Shutterstock
Imaginarium toy store
This is a true children’s paradise where every child can find what they want. The popular network has stores in many countries around the world. The Imaginarium presents unique toys that not only entertain, but also develop children. Here you can find hundreds of different options for children’s gifts – from musical instruments and board games to pedal cars. The interior of the store is reminiscent of a fairy tale world. It is also curious that there are two entrance doors in the room: one for adults, and the other for kids.
Imaginarium toy store © upload.wikimedia.org
Children’s food in Barcelona
There are quite a few establishments in Barcelona that offer a good children’s menu. It can include a variety of dishes – for example, tapas, an omelette with potatoes and onions called tortilla de patatas, patatas bravas (fries), croquettes with savory and sweet fillings, paella, soups and much more.
To surprise an older child with interesting dishes, you can go with him to one of the themed cafes or pastry shops.
- Pudding is an establishment that has won many children’s hearts thanks to its magical desserts and unusual interior. The cafe is made in the style of “Alice in Wonderland” – visitors are surrounded everywhere by characteristic decor elements in the form of giant fly agarics, lanterns and other fabulous attributes. The patisserie has a children’s menu, toys and entertainment for the little ones.
- Bo de B is a great family run cafe serving healthy and quality food. This place will delight children and adults with large portions and delicious dishes.
- Louro is a cozy place for a family dinner, where adults can enjoy excellent seafood appetizers, and a quality children’s menu for younger visitors.
- Semproniana is a Mediterranean restaurant serving original dishes and snacks for adults and children. By the way, on Saturdays children’s culinary master classes are often held here.
- La Nena is a real paradise for those with a sweet tooth. You should definitely stop by here to treat your child to delicious churros, hot chocolate and other desserts. The cafe has a small playground for kids.
Typical Spanish seafood paella © Raimunda-losantos / Shutterstock
What you need to know when traveling with children in Barcelona
- Barcelona is quite comfortable to travel with a stroller. Almost all pedestrian crossings have slopes, and many public places have lifts and elevators, and buses have low platforms.
- Almost all public places have free toilets where all visitors are allowed in, so you should have no problem finding them during your walk. Many restrooms are equipped with changing tables.
- If you are traveling with small children, it is best to take baby food with you. For example, some types of locally prepared puree may include rather specific ingredients – citrus fruits or even jamon.
Barcelona in detail
History | Hotel Casa Fuster Barcelona
Built in 1908 and completely renovated in 2004, the hotel is the result of a refurbishment of the famous Art Nouveau building known as the “House of Fuste”, created by the famous Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose works, the most outstanding examples of Art Nouveau, have been declared World Heritage Sites. UNESCO heritage. Thus, it can be called a designer hotel with a capital letter.
Mr. Fuste built the house as a gift for his wife and also as a decoration of Barcelona. It was the architect’s last work in the Catalan capital, and at one time it was the most expensive building in the city, due to the materials used, including the highest quality marble.
In 2000, the Hoteles Center chain purchased the building and turned it into a hotel, trying to preserve the original architecture while at the same time emphasizing its uniqueness and stunning spectacle. In 2004 the hotel opened its doors.
Casa Fuste is not only the pinnacle of Domènech y Montaner’s work, this majestic building crowns the Eixample quarter and represents the period of Barcelona’s greatest splendor and prosperity of the last century.
Mariano Fuste y Fuste, a representative of the high society of Mallorca, met in Barcelona Consuelo Fabra y Puig, daughter of the Marquis de Alella.
Mr. Fusta wanted to give his wife a house, and she decided to buy a building located on Paseo de Gracia No. 132. At 19In 05, all necessary permits were obtained to demolish it and build a new stunning building to the delight of Consuelo Fabra i Puig and all of Barcelona.
The ambitious project was undertaken by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner, who designed and built the house under the direction of Consuelo Fabra i Puig. Mariano Fuste named the house after his wife and dedicated a rosette with the initials CF on the façade facing Jesus Street to her.
Domènech i Montaner, the world-famous architect of the Art Nouveau era, the creator of the famous Palace of Catalan Music, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, built the House of Fuste with three facades, striking, above all, with architectural details and expressiveness.
Work began in 1908, and in 1911 the Fuste y Fabra family moved into the mezzanine. In 1911, the Fuste House was the most expensive building in the city due to the materials used in the construction, including quality marbles.