In 1999, I was a young exchange student living in Barcelona and having the time of my life. While there I went on a tour of the Sagrada Familia. At that time, the tour did not have a set price, but donation based pricing. And the “tour” was simply access to the museum on Gaudí in the basement, and the chance to climb the stairs up the Nativity tower. I remember climbing up the tower and looking down at the would-be nave, and seeing what looked like a work-shop. In there I saw what looked like statues of fruit, but I had no idea what it was.
The Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular sights in Barcelona. In 1882, construction was started on what was a massive cathedral. Once Gaudí started, it became his life work. Unfortunately, in 1926 he died in an accident. He left no blue print, and the few plaster models he left were destroyed in a fire. For many years the church had little money and the building was slow. Many thought it would never be completed. In the 1980s the architect introduced the use of computer models which has allowed the building progress at a much faster rate. In 2010 the nave was completed and Pope Benedict came and oversaw the consecration of the cathedral. Work continues, but at a breakneck pace and is expected to be completed in just 8 years.
Now a days, it’s a bit more complicated to go to the Sagrada Familia. If you don’t book an advanced ticket with a timed entrance, you can be waiting in line for hours to enter. We purchased a guided tour through Amigo Tours along with our trip to Montserrat. We met the tour guide outside of the main entrance at 3pm. After some logistics, we were split into two groups (English speakers and Spanish Speakers), and then went through security. Once past security we were given devices called “whispers”. It was a devise that allowed us to listen to the tour guide through a transmitter and earphones so we wouldn’t have to shout.
Our first stop in the tour was the Nativity façade. This façade is pure Gaudí. Designed to represent the nativity and birth of Christ, it is steeped in symbolism from Mary, the trio, and topped with a tree of life. Infused with Gaudí’s love of nature, there is many natural elements all over the façade. It was the first façade built, and the only in his lifetime. Once the guide went over the façade, we entered the nave.
Inside I was entirely overwhelmed. It was a completely different church than the one I had visited so many years ago. First of all, it had a roof! But not just a roof. A beautiful space that was built on groups of pillars that branch up like trees. Stained glass windows that bring in brilliant colored light. And a simple, peaceful nave that is meant to bring on quiet contemplation. Or as quiet as you can get in a cathedral filled with thousands of people all talking at the same time.
After going over the construction and symbolism on the inside, we went to look at the Passion façade. The Passion façade is very different from the Nativity façade. Where the Nativity façade is gritty the Passion façade is sleek, with the more clean lines and sleek statues. This façade was carved by a team of sculptors led by Josep Maria Subirachs. It has some of my favorite sculptures of the whole church.
After the guided part of the tour was done, we went down to the Gaudí museum. In the crypt is a museum dedicated to the history of the building of the cathedral and the life of Gaudí. It even has a replica of his workshop. At the end of the museum is a lovely gift shop, where my stepfather and I spent quite a bit of time looking for different gifts.
Between being out of shape, the jet lag, the morning at Montserrat, and walking all around the Sagrada Familia, my mom and I were exhausted. I had done 13,000+ steps that day, and my legs and feet were aching. We went across the street looking for a souvenir shop. While my mom and I did a little shopping, my stepfather found a café and ordered a beer. Sounded good, so I sat down and joined him. As we sat and drank a beer, we looked across to the Sagrada Familia, and soaked in the beauty. Then we jumped in a cab and headed back to the apartment to rest our feet and soak in all we observed on our first day.
–Address: Ticket Entrance, Carrer de Sardenya, Barcelona, Spain
–Hours: Generally 9am – 7pm
–Tickets: From 15€ for a basic ticket, to 29€ for tower access and guide