Gaudi–Fool or Genius….You decide

There are two responses when you tell people you are going to Barcelona.  The first is: “You are going to love it,” (We do)  And the second is: “Sagrada Familia!!  You must go see Sagrada Familia.”  (We did)  Before we left Canada I watched videos and roamed through many photo sites, but they were just morsels of the real feast.  This is what the fuss is all about!  It’s audacious, it’s grand, it’s exuberant!  It has no equivalent in the history of architecture.  It’s Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.

The Nativity Facade as seen from the park across the street.
The exterior of the main nave on the left and the towering Nativity Facade as seen from the park across the street.

Towards the end of the 19th century a new style of art and architecture called Modernisme was born in Barcelona.  It came out of a desire of the Catalans to have a unique expression for their nationalism. They got that uniqueness in spades when Antoni Gaudi started to work on the Sagrada Familia, his greatest and last work.  Imagine what a thrill it must have been for a young architect, a mere pup at 31 years of age to get the nod to proceed.  Initially the church sat alone in the middle of a field.

Photo credit: Unknown
I estimate this was taken in the early 1900s.  The towers are starting to take shape.  Photo credit: Unknown

During the construction years that followed, he could see the massive project from Park Guell, a park he designed and where he lived.  This is the view from that park in 2016.

The city and Sagrada Familia have changed dramatically since the project's beginnings in 1882. And still it continues.....
The city and Sagrada Familia have changed dramatically since the project’s beginnings in 1882. And still construction continues…..

Gaudi, who had through a major illness become devout in his faith and deeply spiritual, envisaged the Sagrada Familia as a Bible made of stone.  He wanted this church to tell in words, sculptures, imagery and colour, the history of the Christian faith.  Gaudi also wanted to have the story in the Bible available to everyone, even if they never set foot inside the church.

Gaudi’s vision included a church for the people.  He built a small school on the worksite for the children of the men who worked there.  When it became clear that there was no space to add a separate cloister, he built the cloister around the base of the church.

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The small brick building in the lower left is the school and the five peaks mid picture are the roof of the cloister. This is one of several  cloisters here, all tucked into the main building.

Sagrada Familia has two main facades–the Passion Facade and the Nativity Facade.  Only the Nativity Facade was completed before Gaudi died after being hit by a tram.  Some say he was on his way to mass, others say he was hit as he stepped back to gain a better view of the project. Whatever the case, the end was tragic because he was mistaken for a beggar and taken to a hospital for the poor. There was no one to intervene and ensure he got the best care, and he died  three days after the accident–just two weeks before his 74th birthday.

Money for the construction of Sagrada Familia was solely dependent on donations from followers (donations and money from tours still fund it today), so Gaudi kept the images of the first facade light and optimistic. There are flowers, garlands, leaves, animals and doves, adorning and dripping almost icing-like around the statues.

Gaudi created the Nativity Facade first, because he knew donations might falter if the mood of his work became too dark
Gaudi created the Nativity Facade first, because he knew donations might falter if the mood of his work became too dark

The facade has three portals–Faith, Hope and Charity. The picture below, of the three wise men bearing their gifts, is in the central Charity portal.   The figures scattered throughout this immense facade are sometimes difficult to find and identify–first, there are so many of them, and then as you move to get better views of one, others are hidden by their ornamental surroundings.  It is visually overwhelming.

Gaudi created the Nativity Facade first, because he knew donations might falter if the mood of his work became too dark
Sculptures, especially those as detailed as this, fascinate me. The artist saw all of this in a stone.

In direct contrast, the Passion Facade is spare, austere and cruel.  Gone are the pleasantries. The lines are angular and severe, eyes stare vacantly and bodies are rigid.  This new style was criticized severely until people came to understand that this is what Gaudi had detailed in his drawings, and  it was exactly this kind of opposition he had feared and the reason he had waited to reveal his plans for this facade.

In contrast to the Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade is angular and austere.
The pillars are bare and severe, telling the story of Christ’s betrayal and death.

The main columns appear to be bones, and behind them a blank canvas for the nearly 100 sculptures in this facade.  Even though, or perhaps because, the lines are severe and minimal, Josep Maria Subirachs (the sculptor) conveys strongly the message that these were dark days in this part of the Bible.

The Judas Kiss, part of the Passion facade which was begun in 1986. One sculptor, Catalan, Josep Maria Subirachs, is the mastermind and creator of the facade
Sculptures of the Judas Kiss and the one of the  flagalation of Jesus, are central to the Passion facade which was begun in 1986. One sculptor, Catalan, Josep Maria Subirachs, is the mastermind and creator of the facade.  Notice the details in the rope.  This sculpture is of carrara marble.

Before I take you inside, you must have a close look at what appear to be colourful baubles on the tallest spires.  These are the bell towers, and each is topped with a 25 meter pinnacle decked out in richly coloured mosaics.  When complete, there will be twelve bell towers in all–one for each of the twelve apostles.  Right now eight are in place.  Four more will be added with the completion of the Glory Facade.

The mitre, the cross, the staff and ring, on each pinnacle are symbols representing the bishops of the church.
The mitre, the cross, the staff and ring, on each pinnacle are symbols representing the bishops of the church.

And now the interior. Gaudi abandoned the first plans for Sagrada Familia which called for a traditional Gothic interior, choosing instead to celebrate his religious devotion through nature, light and colour.  Rather than massive vertical  columns, the roof and structure are supported by columns that lean inward, branching out as they reach higher.  The roof meets the branches in an imitation of a forest canopy.  Lights in the ‘tree trunks’ are embedded in knot hole shaped bumps.

Soaring skyward, this ingenious support system transfers the weight of the roof downward. With this innovative design Gaudi avoided the use of the flying buttress. It freed him to design differently.
Soaring skyward, this ingenious support system transfers the weight of the roof downward through the branches. With this innovative design Gaudi avoided the use of the flying buttress.  This allowed him to make the structure lighter, higher and less cumbersome.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the basilica was that the light coming in danced about the room like sunlight through the trees.  The effect was magical.  To me it seemed that the light was carried in on ribbons of whisper-thin silk.

These windows are on the west side of the nave and are in warm yellows, reds and orange, the colours of a sunset.
These windows are on the west side of the nave and are in warm yellows, reds and orange, the colours of a sunset.  The windows on the east side are in intense blues and greens.

During my travels I have taken pictures of many ceilings, but there is none to compare with this one. I have been known to lie down on the floor to get the best possible shot.  That was not necessary here because this vault rises 60 meters.

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Standing in the centre aisle, I was able to capture the many individually created keystones that decorate the main vault. Gaudi created models 1:10 models of this vault, but sadly never saw its completion in full scale.

Sagrada Familia was Antoni Gaudi’s gift to the world. When Gaudi received his designation as an architect in 1878, the director of Barcelona Architecture School, said: “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”   Time has shown.  Gaudi’s innovative construction techniques and search for new and better materials has set him apart as a genius–whether you appreciate his designs or not, he gave the world something new.

Sagrada Familia is slated for completion in 2026 — 100 years after its architect, Antoni Gaudí, died.  While 10 years seems like a long time, 30% of the building still needs to be constructed. Six more towers will be added, including a 564-foot central tower that will make the Sagrada Familia the tallest religious building in Europe.

To see what it will look like as it’s completed, check out the following video:

http://www.sagradafamilia.org/     In the upper right corner choose your language, then wait for the rotating menu on the left to say ,”We’re constructing for tomorrow.

TIP:  Book your tickets on line. Larry and I walked to Sagrada Familia after lunch and found a two hour queue to buy tickets and there were none left for entry for that day.  After viewing the exterior from all sides, we decided to book on-line through a tour company.  Best decision–paid a little extra for early access, but well worth it.  The guides have audio packs and a headset to talk directly to each individual  group.

 

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