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Our plan for the day was to start out with a visit to the Sagrada Família, but first we walked around a little on
La Rambla near our hotel, and happened upon the Casa Bruno Cuadras, also known as the Umbrella House. This building
is the work of architect Josep Vilaseca, who refurbished it in 1883. It was once an umbrella factory, and is covered
with cast-iron umbrellas of assorted shapes and sizes. It is also covered with Chinese and Japanese imagery, and has
balconies that look Egyptian. The ground floor of the building is a bank. And there’s a dragon sticking out from
the corner. But what the building lacks in cultural consistency, it more than makes up in its quirky attractiveness.
We boarded the Metro at the Liceu stop on La Rambla and traveled northeast to the Sagrada Família.
The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) is the
masterpiece and life’s work of the architect Antoni Gaudí, who worked on it from 1883 until his death in 1926. The
church was originally conceived by architect Francisco del Villar as having a neo-gothic style, as was popular at the
time, but differences between Villar and the project managers resulted in del Villar’s resignation from the project
in 1883. A recommendation led to the hiring of the 31-year-old Gaudí, who had some very different ideas.
While Gaudí was a devout Catholic, he also was fascinated by nature and its forms and structures. Many of these
forms and structures found their ways into Gaudí’s architecture, whether inspired by trees or plants, animals or
mountains. This, combined with truckloads of Christian imagery and general Gaudí weirdness, makes for one of the
most peculiar churches you’re likely to see anywhere. And one of the most amazing and monumental, all at the same
Gaudí envisioned the church as having three principal façades, devoted to Christ’s birth (the Nativity façade), death
(the Passion façade) and resurrection (the Glory façade). He also envisioned it as bristling with 18 gigantic towers, 12
devoted to the apostles, four to the evangelists (writers of the New Testament), and one each to Jesus and the Virgin
Mary. The shortest of the towers (some of the apostle towers) were to be 328 feet tall, and the tallest (the Jesus
tower) was to be 558 feet tall. With the scale and amount of detail (and financial realities), Gaudí had no
illusions as to living to see the church completed. Even so, his life was tragically cut short in 1926, when he was
run over by a streetcar at the age of 74. After a well-attended funeral procession (with a project of this scale and
ambition, Gaudí was something of a celebrity), he was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Família, the basic structure
of which had been largely completed at the time.
At Gaudí’s death, the Nativity façade was nearing completion (it was finished in 1930), but not much had been done on
the other façades. And only one apostle tower was finished. Clearly there was a long way to go. It didn’t help any
when many of Gaudí’s drawings and models were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, along with some of the
construction. But by this time the four towers above the Nativity façade (devoted to apostles Barnabus, Simon, Judas
Thaddaeus and Matthias) had been completed.
The northeast-facing Nativity façade and its towers were the first things confronting us as we emerged from the
Metro’s Sagrada Família station. The façade is an overwhelming explosion of life, and its towers, while being among
the shortest planned for the church, are nonetheless immense. It’s no wonder that this façade is the most popular,
and the drop-off point of all the tour buses.
We thought about going inside the church to see the interior, and we saw a line that seemed to begin in front of the Nativity
façade. We followed the line to see where it went. It went to the corner near the façade, around the back of the church
past the area of the crypt, and then around the other side of the church, entering through a door in the Passion façade. It
didn’t seem to be moving very fast. We decided it would be a good idea to return early on a later day, to beat the crowd.
Construction of the Passion façade began in 1954, following the general plan of some surviving drawings by Gaudí. In
contrast to the lively Nativity façade, the Passion façade is stark and barren, and was actually rather plain until 1986,
when the artist Josep Maria Subirachs started work on sculptural groups for it, depicting various scenes from the passion of
Christ. While the figures on the Nativity façade were generally realistic depictions of humans and other creatures, those
on the Passion façade turned out to be abstract and angular (actually sort of blocky), and as a result were quite
controversial. Nevertheless, the Passion façade is considered to be complete, except for some additional detail work
planned above the sculptural groups.
Making our way around to the Glory façade, it became quite obvious that the Sagrada Família remains a work in
progress. At the time of our visit, the basic structural elements of the façade were still being put in place,
and as yet there were no decorative elements or towers. Nor had any other towers been raised yet, beyond the
eight above the Nativity and Passion façades. But at last there is light at the end of the tunnel – it is
estimated that the church will be completed in ten years or so. For more information on the church, including
construction updates, see the official Sagrada Família website.
Across from the in-work Glory façade was a souvenir shop that had a model of what the church is supposed to look like
when completed. While not interested in paying the large asking price for owning the model, we were happy to take
We completed our circumnavigation of the Sagrada Família, again admiring the towers of the Nativity façade.
We returned to the Metro station from which we’d embarked and travelled west to visit another Gaudí creation,
a building known as La Pedrera.
Tower of Matthias, Scaffolding and Fruit
Pinnacle, Tower of Matthias
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