Sagrada Família, Barcelona

A century and counting I’ve found that it’s not often the case, speaking touristically, that a city’s most famous drawcards are worth the effort. The London Eye, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, the Red Fort in Delhi, the Kremlin, even Sydney’s Harbour Bridge are all certainly worth a look if you’re there (whether or not you agree that they’re drawcards), but I doubt if most visitors’ memories of them would be their most treasured. Of course, that may well have something to do with the phenomenon of mass tourism and the paradoxes of what makes a place worth visiting. So it’s a real pleasure to visit somewhere that can accommodate the rabid throngs who are drawn to its atmosphere, size or reputation as gracefully as Barcelona’s Sagrada Família.

Spiritual spelunking There is a lot of information available online about the architectural marvels of Gaudi’s architecture, and the difficulties of building the cathederal. The official site ( – note the Catalunian domain name, a sign of the region’s pride) offers a great introduction. But I’m rather ignorant about architectural styles and history, and happy enough to remain that way… Nor was it the spiritual or devotional feeling in the church that resonated with me. I felt drawn to the Sagrada Família for its organic form, the spires of melted wax and scultures within scultures on the facade, the way it somehow achieves a totally unbalanced symmetry, and the contrast between to relative chaos of the exterior and the space, light and ordered reverence inside.

Jesus shackled to the Cross Only two of the three facades had been completed when I visited in May 2011. The nativity facade, facing East (and bottom right), is perhaps the most famous; it’s certinly the most photographed. But in utter contrast to its almost overbearing complexity, on the opposite side of the church is the passion facade (left), which is asutere to the point of skeletal depictions of Jesus and his disciples. It’s also very affecting though.

There aren’t many places of worship that don’t leave me feeling that organised religion has lost its foundation, at least as far as that can be represented architecturally, and that the church, mosque, mandir or temple would be a more devotional place if it were less overblown, at a more human scale perhaps. That’s certainly how I felt at St Peter’s in the Vatican. Maybe an expiatory church should feel closer to the people that fund it; a lot of Catalans probably think so.

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is a wonder. I’m very fortunate to have visited it. There are plenty of photos on Flickr to give you a taste: via tag, cluster and places. There is also a virtual visit on the official webiste, offering 360 degree views of inside and out.

Inside a spire of La Sagrada Familia

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Posted on August 19, 2011

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