5 fun facts about Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, a quintessential example of Catalan modernism and Antonio Gaudí’s genius.
Did you know that Barcelona has nine UNESCO World Heritage sites and seven of them were designed by the world-famous architect Antonio Gaudí? Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Vicens are all well worth a visit, but Sagrada Familia is without a doubt his pièce de résistance. An iconic symbol of Barcelona and Gaudí’s genius, the Sagrada Familia is the most visited monument in Spain. It also happens to be one of Spain’s most fascinating, which is why we’re sharing with you five facts and secrets about the Sagrada Familia.
1. After 141 years, the Sagrada Familia is still not finished
Gaudí didn’t lay the very first stone. Construction of the Sagrada Familia began in 1882 under the direction of architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. Gaudí took over in 1883 and devoted more than 43 years to the project. From 1914 to his death, he worked exclusively on the Sagrada Familia, which came to epitomize his artistic and architectural genius. Funded by donations, the basilica’s construction has progressed slowly over the years due to various setbacks. In particular, during the civil war (after Gaudí’s death) part of the crypt and a large number of his workshop models were burned. Today, admission tickets finance the last stage of the basilica’s construction. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused further delays, it’s still believed the Sagrada Familia will be completed in 2026.
2. A blend of mystical symbols
The monument’s beauty, atmosphere and architectural details have captivated many a visitor. Not only as a bold example of Catalan modernism but also for the elements of mysticism and spirituality that are scattered throughout. For some the symbolism is there to be deciphered and analyzed, as a kind of mystical poem to the infinite.
The basilica’s distinct 18 towers represent the 12 apostles, four Evangelists, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, and the size of each tower differs according to the spiritual hierarchy of each religious figure. The three facades represent the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and each depicts various mystical symbols and allegories. On the facade of the Passion is a Magic Square: 16 numbers with 310 combinations that invariably give the number 33, the age of Christ when he was crucified. This number also applies to Park Güell’s staircase, which has 33 steps.
3. Nature as a source of inspiration
Gaudí was fascinated by the majesty of nature and drew endless inspiration from it, particular in his design for the Sagrada Familia. You’ll notice this as soon as you step inside the basilica and see its tree-like columns. Enveloping the ceiling with its branches, the columns create a reimagined forest.
The basilica’s lines are also sinuous and curved to reflect nature’s form as opposed to the straight lines drawn by the hand of man. The verticality of the building represents the elevation towards heaven and the close union between heaven and earth. However, Gaudí didn’t want to overshadow nature out of respect for God’s creations. That’s why the tower of Jesus Christ, the tallest of the 18 towers, is lower than Barcelona’s Montjuïc mountain. At 560ft high, the said tower is still high enough to make Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world.
4. Gaudí thought of everything
Gaudí knew very well that he wouldn’t live to see the basilica completed. He was careful to implement a plan with simple and clear geometry so that his successors could easily pick up where he left off. For this reason he incorporated repeated motifs to simplify the future construction process while giving room for subsequent architects to leave their mark. Gaudí also happens to be buried in the crypt, so he can keep a posthumous eye on the basilica’s progress.
5. It used to have a school
In 1909 Gaudí had a school built on the Sagrada Familia grounds both for the children of the basilica’s construction workers and that of the district’s underprivileged. It stood in the spot intended for the Glory facade, before being destroyed and then rebuilt identically several feet away in 2002. The school was a source of inspiration for many architects.