Barcelona’s Sagrada Família: Gaudí’s ‘cathedral for the poor’ – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 49 | Cities
“On arriving in Barcelona,” wrote W H Auden in 1937, “I found that all the churches were closed and there was not a priest to be seen.” That was a typical piece of English understatement. The priests had been shot. Bodies of nuns had been exhumed and displayed in the street. Almost all of the city’s 58 churches were burned and many demolished. Barcelona’s medieval cathedral, set in the heart of the city, only survived by coming under the direct protection of local government.
Given the rich history of Catalan anti-clericalism long predating the Spanish civil war, it is remarkable that the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família (to give it its full name) has now become the number-one tourist attraction in Barcelona, with some 3 million visitors annually. And even more remarkable given that the original idea for this astonishing project came from Josep Maria Bocabella, a wealthy Catalan publisher who was keen to challenge the spread of revolutionary ideas and to raise a temple to expiate the sins of leftist political ideology.
As a fashionable yet deeply conservative Catholic architect, the young Antoni Gaudí was the obvious choice to imagine this counter-revolutionary philosophy into stone. The project is slated for completion sometime in 2026 – Gaudí was appointed chief architect in 1883. “My client is not in a hurry,” he famously insisted. His client, of course, was God.
‘My client is not in a hurry,’ Gaudí famously insisted. His client, of course, was God
Inside La Sagrada Família: ‘It is the most astonishing space with immediate emotional punch.’ Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
Famously, when Gaudí was run over by a tram in 1926 just a few streets from his beloved building site, his body was mistaken for a beggar’s. Over the final 12 years of his life he had dedicated himself exclusively to prayer, to long periods of fasting, and to the construction of La Sagrada Família. Living in squalor amid peeling wallpaper, his clothes held together by pins, he came to adopt that very Catholic veneration of poverty. His great project, on which he worked obsessively, was to be “a cathedral for the poor” – and yet he forged his reputation building extravagant villas for Catalan millionaires and courting wealthy patrons. This intimate relationship between money and the church was precisely what fuelled the Catalan suspicion of the clergy.
But Gaudí saw no contradiction. In his world, the poor were an object of prayer and not a subject for politics, especially not revolutionary politics. Indeed, it was a sin to threaten the established order. One sculpture on the Sagrada Família depicts the devil handing a working-class revolutionary an Orsini bomb. “A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man,” said Gaudí – words repeated by Pope Benedict XVI when he said the first Mass in the Sagrada Família at its dedication on 7 November, 2010.
I admit, I arrived in Barcelona not expecting to like the Sagrada Família. From the outside, it looks too much like a tacky theme park – part-sandcastle, part-spaceship. George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”. Long queues of ice cream-licking tourists snaked round the street from the ticket office. Today it was full, they told me – but I could buy a ticket for tomorrow. There was a 15-minute window in the afternoon. So having time to kill, I decided to go see the real Cathedral of Barcelona instead, as (though it may be referred to as one) the Sagrada Família is not actually a cathedral.
Gaudí was appointed chief architect in 1883; the project is slated for completion in 2026. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty
And what a contrast. There were no queues, no shoals of gawping flesh. Inside, the organ was being practised. Singing could be heard from somewhere within the cloisters, and a beautiful stone fountain of clear drinking water offered a welcome refreshment, while 13 white geece wandered freely in the centre of the cloister. This was beauty on a human scale. Many people were even using it as a place to sit quietly and pray. Grand yes, but perfectly at one with the narrow medieval streets that surround it.
Like the Sagrada Família, its construction spanned three centuries, from the 13th to the 15th. Unlike the Sagrada Família, which was set to be the tallest church in the world, it didn’t feel like a work of overbearing ecclesiastical triumphalism – the craftsmen who made the cathedral were anonymous. Today, Gaudí has become almost a cult in himself, and many now lobby for him to become a saint.
Little wonder the Sagrada Família has not always been quite as popular with the people of Barcelona as it has been with tourists. In July 1936, revolutionaries set light to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop, destroying Gaudí’s original plans, drawings and plaster models, leaving the next generation of architects with an enormous puzzle of how best to proceed.
It took them 16 years just to piece together the fragments of the master model, and controversy has followed its construction ever since. Some, like Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, thought it should have been left alone as a folly. Others insisted that the use of new materials – reinforced concrete rather than stone, and now 3D printing – cheapened Gaudí’s original ideals. The new build, some argued, was a shoddy job, badly executed.
Everything has a meaning in line with a desire that the building should be a teaching tool
The Judas Treason by sculptor Josep Subirachs. Photograph: Alamy
With all these cavils running around my head, I passed through the door of the nativity façade – and almost at once, any doubts were expelled. It is the most astonishing space with immediate emotional punch. The scale and colours of the interior are truly magnificent.
Bone-like columns twist their way to the ceiling, branching out from ellipsoid knots, reaching upwards, creating the impression of being in an enormous forest. Vast geometric stars decorate the ceiling, punctured by open hyperboloids, sucking in the light and all suggesting the canopy of heaven. The greens, blues, yellows and reds of the light coming through Joan Vila Grau’s stained-glass windows create a dappled effect with constantly shifting patterns illuminating the stone, decorated by grapes, cherries and flowers. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” is how Psalm 19 described creation. Gaudí and his successors just copied it – the latter with quite a lot of help from the latest computer modelling software.
Magical and fantastical, witty even, the outside is fine for fridge magnets. But it’s the inside where the full abundance of Gaudí’s biomimetic theological aesthetic is made complete. Everywhere you look, the details have been attended to with such meticulous care and attention; everything has a meaning in line with a desire that the building should be a teaching tool, from which the entire history of the church could be read.
But it is the dizzying verticality that creates the strongest impression, as if the world is tipped up towards heaven. All of which – stone, light, verticality – are the central ingredients of the medieval cathedral too. Indeed, for all its contemporary decoration and geometrical wizardry, it is still a remarkably traditional building.
But for all this, I will always remain suspicious of the glamour and allure of big expensive Christian buildings – and the way they can easily become an end in themselves, rather than a way of pointing beyond their walls. Indeed, can anything as architecturally flashy as the Sagrada Família ever really point beyond itself? This is precisely why iconoclasm and the smashing of stone representations of God has long been a part of Christian history. Of course, this comment reflects my own experience of the conflict between St Paul’s Cathedral and Occupy.
For some, a church building is – and should only ever be – a glorified rain-shelter. After all, Christ had little truck with the Temple of his day. And the early church did pretty well out of meeting in each other’s houses. But when the Roman Empire absorbed Christianity into itself, thus creating Christendom, it bought off the Jesus movement’s radical, almost anarchist-like instincts with a fancy building programme. Now Christendom is almost dead, churches like the Sagrada Família feel like the effervescence of a bygone age. If Christianity has a future, it won’t be because of places such as these.
Which other buildings in the world tell stories about urban history? Share your own pictures and descriptions with GuardianWitness, on Twitter and Instagram using #hoc50 or let us know suggestions in the comments below
SAGRADA FAMILIA INTERIOR: WORTH IT OR NOT?
ALL ABOUT LA SAGRADA FAMILIA INSIDE
If there is one MUST-SEE place in town, that’s definitely the Sagrada Familia church. Started in 1882 by the architect Francesc de Paula i Villar, Gaudi took over the project a year later and transformed it into his masterpiece, his passion and obsession. It won’t be finished until 2026-30 (approx. ), but the inside was finally completed, freed of scaffolding and consecrated by Pope Benedict in 2010.
Before the completion of the inside naves in 2010 many people were content to just see it from outside and spare the cost of the tickets. But after that, the Barcelona Sagrada Familia interior has become a must: if there’s one site where you need to spend your money, this is the Sagrada Familia church.
In today’s post we are sharing with you what to look for when your visit the Sagrada Familia interior. These are the favorite elements of our experienced private tour guides from their Sagrada Familia Tours!
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Things that make the interior of the Sagrada Familia inside unique:
The hanging model
The basement of the Sagrada Familia Church houses an architecture museum that connects the Nativity and the Passion Façades underground. There you can learn about Gaudi’s project, the evolution of the works, the history of the Sagrada Familia basilica and see plaster models and drawings.
The star of the museum in the basement is this polifunicular model, a replica of the one that Gaudi created to design the church of the Colònia Güell for his best friend Eusebi Güell. It’s fascinating how he’d only need strings and little bags of sand to calculate what our architects now do on their computers…
That church was the lab where Gaudi tested the engineering techniques he wanted to use in the Church of the Sagrada Familia… in a much more advanced and challenging way.
The soldier with 6 toes
This detail is something most visitors miss unless someone tells them it exists… The waiter who posed for the soldier of Herod killing the babies was born with six toes, and that’s how Gaudi decided to represent him in stone.
THE MOST COMPLETE GAUDI TOUR
It’s hard to see the sixth toe, but you can make it out in the Façade of the Nativity. Or in a good guidebook…
The stain-glass colors reflecting on the columns
Once you enter the main nave, you’ll be at awe: it’s so out of this world! My favorite time is in autumn and spring, when the sunlight reflects the stain-glass colors in the columns and makes you feel you are inside a magical forest of stone.
As for our preferred time to visit the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona, we love the lights during autumn and winter, when the sun is lower and the colors are brighter (if it’s sunny outside).
The cryptogram that adds up to 33
The element of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona that mathematicians love the most is the cryptogram in the Passion Façade. This magical square adds up to the age of Jesus when he died.
DON’T MISS THE GAUDI TOUR
The architect Antoni Gaudi is buried in the basement of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. You don’t need to pay to see this one, as the crypt is open for prayers and services and it’s free of charge (however, it only opens for mass). You can also see it from inside the basilica (corridor behind the altar) and the museum.
Not being recognized as the great master he was when he was run over by a tram, he died in a hospital for poor people. But then, over 100,000 people came to pay their respects in his funeral. Sad end for an incredible man.
The Basilica of the Sagrada Famíla
Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s Unfinished Masterpiece…
Gaudí Unseen: Completing the Sagrada Família
Sagrada Família Towers
There are currently two elevators: one in each façade. While the one in the Nativity side is only way-up, then you must walk down, in the one at the Passion side you are also given the possibility to take the elevator down again – bear this in mind if you are scared of heights or have weak knees!
BTW, did you know that an electrifying chapter of Dan Brown’s Origin novel happened here? I recommend you get your elevator tickets online when you get your Sagrada Familia tickets online, as they sell out quickly. But are they really worth it?
Well, that depends on what are your goals: if you are expecting great city views, there are other sites that will serve you better (Montjuic Hill and La Pedrera being our favorite). The windows were designed to send the sound of the bells down to the ground, not to show people’s the views, so most of the time the views aren’t that great.
Instead, if you love the sense of adventure of climbing steep spiral stairs, or if you’d love to get a sneak peak at the construction works, then taking the elevator is well worth it!
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So is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia inside worth it?
Yes, going inside Sagrada Familia is totally worth it! If you don’t, you’ll regret it the rest of your life. It’s a church like no other church you’ve seen it. It’s the second largest basilica in Spain… and the world (after the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican). And the combination of engineering and beauty will blow your mind.
The best way to enjoy it is taking a private tour: you get to skip lines and you have an expert tour guide 100% dedicated to you, your interests and questions. No sharing with other people (that might be annoying).
But if you prefer to go on your own, make sure to buy your tickets in advance. After the pandemic they eliminated their physical ticket offices and purchasing them online is the only option. Plus they typically sell out days (or even weeks) in advance. You’ve been warned.
Gaudi: A Biography
The Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s Heaven on Earth
Other recommended posts to help you plan your visit inside Gaudi’s Cathedral
Ok, maybe I shouldn’t say “cathedral”: the Sagrada Familia is not a Cathedral. The honor of being the Barcelona Cathedral is reserved to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia in the Gothic Quarter. Because a Cathedral is the headquarters of the Bishopric, and that’s where they’ve been for many centuries.
La Sagrada Familia is first of all a Barcelona church, a parish church serving the neighborhood. It’s also an Expiatory Temple built to expire (to forgive) people’s sins through their donations. And it’s also a Minor Basilica after Pope Benedict declared it so on the day of its dedication on November 7, 2010.
Will you be going inside La Sagrada Familia?
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona (Spain) and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
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Sagrada Familia in Barcelona – useful and interesting info!
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is a temple in the Eixample district of Barcelona, which has been under construction since 1882. The Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia (the same Sagrada Família) is the main attraction of the Catalan capital. Since 2010, it has the status of a Minor Papal Basilica.
- A bit of history
- Facades and towers of the Sagrada Familia
- Interior of the Sagrada Familia
- Interesting facts about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
- When will the Sagrada Familia be completed
- How much does it cost to visit and visit the Sagrada Familia
- How to get to the Sagrada
- Days and hours to visit the cathedral and museum
- Sagradamilia house – Gaudí Museum
- Excursions including a visit to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
A bit of history
The original neo-Gothic design of the temple was prepared by the architect Francisco del Villar . A year later, in 1883, the construction was headed by the then young Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. Sagrada Familia became his main masterpiece and swan song, to which he devoted 43 years of his life .
The only source of funding for the construction of the temple for many years were voluntary contributions from parishioners, which explained the slow pace of construction. Gaudi himself said that his customer (God) is in no hurry. Just like the architect himself. He set to work without a finished project. In the work of Gaudi, improvisation has always occupied a large place. But she always ascended to nature, which the architect idolized.
Not everyone accepted this approach at first. But Gaudí proved his right to creative freedom. In parallel with the construction of the temple, he created a number of structures in Barcelona that brought the Catalan capital the glory of one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. By the end of the XIX century. his authority in the architectural environment has become indisputable.
Gaudi decided to decorate the temple with many monumental towers. All components of the building under construction were supposed to symbolize evangelical stories or church rites. The northern, southern and western façades of the church were dedicated to the stages of Christ’s earthly life, corresponding to Christmas, Passion and Resurrection (Glory).
Before his death in 1926, Gaudi managed to build the northern facade of the Nativity with the first 100-meter bell tower of St. Barnabas (Apostle from 70). After Gaudí’s death, the construction was led by his talented student Domènech Sugranes . The pace of construction has slowed down. After all, most of the details of the project were only in the head of the brilliant Master. Calculations for the continuation of construction had to be done using the most sophisticated NASA computer program. K 1938 Sugranes managed to complete the construction of three other towers of the Nativity facade.
The Spanish Civil War stopped construction for a long time. Only in 1952 did the staircase of the Nativity facade and its illumination appear. In 1954, the Passion Façade, designed by Gaudi in 1911–23, began to be erected. By 1977, he had acquired four towers. Sculptures appeared on them already in the 21st century. In 2002, the construction of the last facade – Resurrection – began.
Facades and towers of the Sagrada Familia
Four bell towers in honor of the apostles were planned on each of the three facades of the temple. Another six lighting towers – simborio (light lantern) should be in the central part of the temple. Thus, this unique temple will have as many as 12 bell towers and six light lanterns! Of the 18 planned towers of the Sagrada Familia, currently (beginning of 2023), 11 are fully built – four each on the facades of the Nativity and the Passion, as well as the towers of the Virgin Mary and the Evangelists Luke and Mark in the central part.
The main entrance to the temple is located in the facade of the Nativity. Its four towers are named after the apostles Matthew (98 m high), Simon (107), Judas (Jacobleva, 107) and Barnabas (98). The portals of the Nativity facade are named after the Christian virtues – Faith, Hope and Mercy. The sculptures decorating them depict scenes from the earthly life of Christ. The porticos of the facade are covered with sculptures and bas-reliefs with gospel scenes.
Work on the Passion façade began in 1954 and ended in 2018. The towers of this façade represent the apostles James (112 m), Thomas (112), Philip (107) and Bartholomew (112). Unlike the façade of the Nativity, which is full of life, the façade of the Passion is ascetic. His sculptures are carved from bare stones, using continuous straight lines, forming angular and rigid forms, telling of the suffering of the Lord.
The construction of the Resurrection facade started in 2002. It faces south and will be illuminated by the sun all day. Of the towers, only their foundations are ready. They will be dedicated to the apostles Andrew (112 m), Peter (117), Paul (117) and James (107).
In the central part of the temple, the highest, 170-meter tower of Christ, will be one meter lower than God’s creation – Mount Montjuic. The height of the tower of the Virgin Mary is 123 m, and the towers of the Evangelists John, Luke, Mark and Matthew are 125 m high. They are decorated with sculptures of their symbols – a calf, a man, an eagle and a lion.
What the Sagrada Familia Cathedral looks like inside
Entrance to the Sagrada Familia is paid (for prices see below). But, if you doubt whether it is worth spending money and time to inspect it inside, then my answer is definitely worth it!
Look how beautiful it is.
The scale of the building is amazing!
Interesting facts about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
- As mentioned above, Antonio Gaudí was commissioned to build the church in 1883. According to urban legend, this decision was preceded by a prophetic dream , seen by the chairman of the Society of St. James – the customer of the temple. In his dream, the temple was built by a blond with blue eyes. This is how the young Gaudi looked outside the box for the Catalans.
- Gaudí devoted the last part of his life entirely to his main creation. He spent all the time in the temple, often staying there for the night. Gaudi invested all the money he earned in the construction of , stopped monitoring his appearance, became distracted. This played a fatal role in his fate. On June 7, 1926, Gaudi was hit by a tram that had just started up in Barcelona. For a long time the cab drivers refused to take the “tramp” to the hospital. The next day, he was identified in the hospital for the poor, but it was too late to save Gaudí. He remained forever in the temple he created: Gaudi was buried in his crypt.
- The completed Expiatory Church of the Holy Family will be the highest Christian church on the planet.
- The facades of the temple are decorated with many sculptures, for a detailed examination of which visitors climb the towers. All external details carry a semantic load, displaying biblical scenes. The interior is decorated with only four sculptures: Like ascetic Protestant churches, inside the temple nothing distracts from communion with God.
- A number of representatives of the creative intelligentsia of Spain and Catalonia believe that modern architects completing the construction of the temple implement Gaudí’s plan not up to the mark . They even called for the work to stop.
When the Sagrada Familia will be completed
The construction was planned to be completed in 2026. – for the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.
In addition to donations from private individuals, significant funds from the many tourists visiting it are also directed to finance the construction of the temple. Unfortunately, during the coronavirus pandemic, this source of funding has been drastically reduced. Therefore, the planned completion date for the construction of Gaudí’s main masterpiece is in question.
How much does it cost to visit and visit the Sagrada Familia
The cost of visiting and visiting the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona may vary depending on the type of ticket you purchased.
- Standard ticket for adults costs 22 euros and allows you to enter the nave, transept, apse and facade of the Nativity.
- Standard ticket plus tower costs 30 euros and allows you to enter the front of the Nativity and one of the towers.
- The combined ticket for Sagrada Familia and Sagrada Familia costs 28 euros and allows you to visit the front of the Nativity, the museum and one of the towers.
- The cost of the combined ticket for the Sagrada Familia , the Sagrada Familia Museum and the audio guide is 32 euros.
- Adult priority ticket costs €48 and allows you to enter the front of the Nativity of Christ, the museum and one of the towers and skip the line. But at this link you will be able to find and purchase tickets to the Sagrada with fast track skip the line from 33 euros! Very convenient!
How to get to the Sagrada
Address: Carrer Mallorca, 401 Barcelona 08013
🚇 To get to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, you can take the metro and get off at the Sagrada Familia station of the same name, which is on line 9004 (purple) and L5 (blue).
🚌 You can also take the bus and get off at the Sagrada Familia stop.
🚲 If you prefer walking or cycling, there are several picturesque streets in the area that will lead you to the basilica.
🚕 You can also take a taxi or drive to the Sagrada Familia, but be aware that parking can be difficult in this area.
Days and hours for visiting the cathedral and museum
- November to February: Monday – Saturday from 9:00 to 18:00. Sundays from 10:30 to 18:00.
- March and October: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 19:00. Sundays from 10:30 to 19:00.
- April to September: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 to 20:00. Sundays from 10:30 to 20:00.
- Special opening hours: December 25 and 26, January 1 and 6 opening hours will be from 9:00 to 14:00.
Opening hours and days may sometimes be changed by the administration due to special events in the Basilica.
Gaudí House Museum
- October to March: 10:00 am to 18:00 pm.
- April to September: from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm.
- 25 and 26 December, 1 and 6 January: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Last tickets sold fifteen minutes before closing. To visit the Gaudí House Museum, you need to purchase ticket to enter the Parc Güell. Tickets to the museum can be obtained using a QR code at the entrance to the premises (House-Museum).
Hours and working days are sometimes subject to change by the administration.
Excursions including a visit to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
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Sagrada Familia. Site description
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Sagrada Familia (full name “The Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family”) is the creation of the famous master of Spanish architecture Antonio Gaudi, who worked on the design and construction of the building for 43 years. The temple was supposed to embody, according to the plan of the master, the dominant ideas of the New Testament. But – alas! Gaudi never managed to see with his own eyes the greatest project of his life: he died at 1926, and the full completion of the work is timed only for 2024 – a hundred years later than his death.
Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styles are mixed in the architecture of the building. Strict, symmetrical details of the building, covered with ornate patterns, stained-glass windows, sculptural compositions depicting Biblical scenes, spiral staircases. And the four graceful towers, illuminated by shimmering lights, have long been the most iconic image of Barcelona.
Services in the church are already underway, and donations left by parishioners are the main means of construction. At the height of the season, there is often a queue at the door of the church for those wishing to look at its fantastic decoration – so it is better to come there with plenty of time. Inside the church, visitors will find, among other things, the Gaudí Museum and an observation deck with a breathtaking view of fabulous Barcelona.
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