This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Valley India Times.
Barcelona, the enchanting sea side city of Spain, has a lot to offer to people of all ages and interests – museums, parks, beaches, night life, and historical buildings and monuments. Everything about this city is simply magical that charms you and make you want for more. However, the key reason why I included Barcelona in our itinerary during our Europe trip this April was its amazing architecture. To me, among other things, what sets Barcelona apart from any other city of Spain are its extraordinary architectural monuments created by Antoni Gaudi, one of the greatest geniuses of universal architecture who shaped the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th century in Europe. Gaudi’s outstanding works include – Casa Mila, Casa Batlo, Part Guel, and La Sagrada Familia, of which Sagrada Familia ranks at the top. It is an absolute gem that can keep you mesmerized in Gaudi’s extraordinary genius and vision for hours.
Before I begin to share our experience at this magnificent basilica, let me brief you about its history. The Sagrada Familia (‘The Holy Family’) is a massive Roman Catholic basilica under construction in Barcelona. The project began in 1882, and a year later, the famed architect Antoni Gaudi (1852– 1926) came on board. Once Gaudi took over the project, he completely transformed it. His goal was to combine Gothic and Art Nouveau forms into something new and unforgettable; he worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to the endeavor before he could finish his masterpiece. At the time of his death, less than 25% of the building was finished. Regarding its extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked, “My client is not in a hurry”. Luckily, Gaudi has left behind models and blueprints so that the building can be finished as per his grand design. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2026.
Now coming back to our journey to this extraordinarily magnificent monument, the Hotel manager had offered us two very helpful tips. First, he suggested that we should at least keep half a day to do justice to this work of art; and second, we should purchase the tickets online in order to avoid long queues. Following both the recommendations, we purchased online ticket for 2:00 pm so we could spend a couple of hours after lunch. After being granted a timely entry into the cathedral, we found ourselves face to face with this man- made wonder that we had viewed from a distance from the Tour bus the day before. It was amazing to watch tons of onlookers so absorbed in taking pictures of themselves and of the basilica from different angels. When on vacation, I always prefer to rely on audio guide for detailed information about the place, so we first spent a couple of minutes in a queue to get the audio guide before we started our tour.
Both the exterior as well as the interior of this cathedral captivated us with their unparalleled majesty and charm. You may want to explore it at your pace, making your decision which part hold your interest longer. However, the cathedral has so many details and stories to every part that you really need to take time to take it all in. It is projected to have three facades, and each is unique in its own way. The Passion Façade (to the West), is plain and simple; it focuses on the Christ’s final days on earth and his death and is based on drawings made by Gaudi. The Nativity Façade (to the East) is dedicated to the birth of Jesus. Built between 1891-1930, mostly in Gaudi’s life time, it represents faith (left), hope (right) , and charity (center) and depicts religious stories of Jesus’s birth and childhood through various sculptures. The Glory Façade is dedicated to the Glory of Jesus, and depicts the scenes of final judgment. It represents the path people need to take to God: death, final judgment, and then glory. It evokes deep questions such as ‘who we are and why we are on this earth.
As we stepped inside the cathedral, the magnificence and grandeur of this enormous structure left us awestruck. With audio guide strapped to my head, I found myself immersed in the story of this cathedral constructed over a span of more than one century. Walking from one pillar to another, I tried to make sense of the stories behind every detail of the structure- on the walls, on the columns, and on the high ceilings. The interior is a splendid work of stained glass windows. The geometrical pattern of the incredibly high columns is like trees; the ceilings look like cluster of leaves tree, and trunk is made of different stones with different base depending on the size and weight to bear. You have to crane your neck to glance at the ceilings .Gaudi was a nature lover and the tree like columns are an example of this.This has created an atmosphere of reflection, prayer, and seclusion which is heightened by artificial light that comes in through windows during night and sunlight that filters through these windows during day. This cathedral is testimony to his love of nature and religious fervor.
If you want, you may sit on one of the chairs and meditate for a couple of minutes. Such is the magic of this place that despite the presence of hundreds of visitors inside, the prevailing calmness and serenity allows you to quietly marvel at the architectural finesse, to reflect, to introspect, and to pray. The following words from the audio guide still echo in my ears, ‘This place gives sense to the church. The purpose of this place is to encourage prayer Leave your headphones for some time, and branch yourself a few minutes of introspection.’
You can also climb up the towers of the Sagrada Familia, to get great views of the city of Barcelona and tops of the towers that look like berries. But you will need to buy extra ticket for going up the elevator. We didn’t go up and spent 4-5 hours completely absorbed in this magnificent work of art at the lower level; before exiting the interior, we briefly visited the museum and Gaudi’s workshop. After stepping out, we again found ourselves captivated by the happy images of the Nativity façade, so we took a second and closer look at the sculptures portraying the happiness and jubilation at the birth of Christ and his childhood before we finally bade good bye to this priceless jewel of architecture, wondering how one man’s dream could continue on through the generations.
Though incomplete, Sagrada Familia is a masterpiece par excellence that takes your breath away. You don’t need to be religious to admire this cathedral; you only need to be a lover of beauty. No wonder every year nearly 3 million visitors marvel at this extraordinary masterpiece. Would you like to be one of them?