The stunning La Sagrada Família is a must-see for any tourist passing through Barcelona. The towering, still-under-construction basilica is beloved architect Antoni Gaudí’s most celebrated work. The building of this ornamental wonder began in 1882 and is currently ongoing. Though it is the most visited monument in Spain, welcoming more than three million visitors each year, La Sagrada Família is still very much a place of worship—so much so that Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church in 2010. The Temple holds Sunday mass once every couple of months, and there are special visiting hours for The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament and Penitence, which is reserved for prayer.
Whether you visit La Sagrada Família to take in its intricate and fascinating design, or as part of a holy pilgrimage, it is truly a wonder to behold. Below are 9 things you might not have heard about Spain's ultimate attraction.
The first completed facade is titled The Birth of Christ and within this facade are three portals: "The Portal of Hope," "The Portal of Mercy," and "The Portal of Faith." The faces on "The Portal of Mercy" are actually sculpted from the death masks of diseased Barcelona citizens, as well as builders of La Sagrada Família—it was Gaudí’s way of paying tribute to these people.
2. La Sagrada Família will take longer to complete than the Egyptian pyramids. It started in 1882 and is hoped to be completed in 2026 (the centennial of Gaudí’s death), though it might not be finished until as late as 2040. The Great Pyramid, by comparison, only took 20 years.
3. The project was first commissioned for Francisco Del Vilar by the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph. He built the crypt, but after creative disagreements he dropped the site and it was passed over to Gaudí.
4. Gaudí disliked straight lines and angles because they don't often appear naturally. Instead, he based his design on the swirling curves of nature.
5. There is endless natural symbolism within La Sagrada Família. The interior structure is supported by large pillars that look like trees. One pillar has a turtle at its base, and another a tortoise in order to show the balance between land and sea.
Gaudí didn’t just use the natural world for inspiration; he used it to develop architectural techniques. Gaudí analyzed plants, animals, and geothermal formations to see how they naturally supported shapes and weight. The orbit of the stars was used to design the helicoidal columns.
7. Gaudí believed that no man-made object should be constructed higher than the work of God. Therefore, La Sagrada Família, when completed, will tower at 170 meters (560 ft), which was intended to be one meter less than Barcelona’s highest point, Montjuïc hill.
8. In 1936, a group of anarchists and revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and destroyed the workshop which contained all of the plans and models—thankfully a scarce few were saved.
9. The holy place was built to be seen from all points of the city. It has glass mosaics at its highest points, which when reflected by sun or moonlight act as beacons to guide seafarers home.