The Sagrada Familia, or to give it its full title, The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, is the “must see” structure in Barcelona, and from many places around the city it’s hard not to see it, or at least the cranes that are as much a feature of this building site as the 8 spires that tower over everything in the vicinity.
It will be the tallest church in the world when the work is complete. That is hoped to be in about 10 years time to celebrate the centenary of Gaudi’s death though some estimate it could take another 25 years after that. Whatever the outcome the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, the oldest and for centuries tallest of the seven ancient wonders of the world took only 20 years in total.
So is it worth all that effort and attention?
The reviews are mixed with descriptions ranging from sensual, spiritual, audacious and whimsical to vulgar, pretentious and hideous (George Orwell being responsible for the last descriptor).
So what did I make of it? Well I’m going to consider the exterior and interior as two different propositions, so you’ll have to wait for the full story, but let’s start outside.
There are three facades (why not go the whole hog and create four?), but as one is obscured by the construction at the moment I’m only able to comment on two; the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade.
First to be constructed, and built during Gaudi’s lifetime, the Nativity Facade is packed with sculptural detail and is all about the birth of Christ, though the presence of a Christmas tree in the heart of the decoration seems incongruous. To my eye it’s a mess. The concept of “less is more” was clearly anathema to Gaudi. Apparently he intended for every figure in the facade to be individually painted, and this might be helpful in guiding the eye to important details but for now it’s just a melee of masonry.
The Passion Facade isn’t entirely Gaudi’s work. Although he had outline his concept and created sketches and models, the actual detail of the sculptures wasn’t addressed before his death. The angular columns, inspired by the trunks of sequoia trees, were always part of the plan but the sculptures by Josep Maria Subirachs come from another century, being quite literally designed almost 100 years after the building’s construction began.
Subirach’s style is angular and blocky, which to me seems completely inappropriate for a building designed by the man who hated straight lines. I wondered at first if the figures were unfinished, they were so different to those elsewhere on the building. Not as busy as the Nativity Facade, but whereas the designer loved his subject so much he couldn’t stop here, on the Passion Facade there seems no love at all. Perhaps this was deliberate dealing as it does with the end of Christ’s life, but for me the building lacked any clear identity as a result.
The church is of course rich in symbolism, something that would normally fascinate me, but too rich a diet can leave you feeling rather sick, and I preferred to keep my distance.