Awe-struck at the Sagrada Familia Basilica, Barcelona, Spain

The entrance through the Passion facade (Ann Burnett)

The entrance through the Passion facade (Ann Burnett)

Our first view of the Sagrada Familia is from the top of Montjuic Hill at the end of the funicular ride up from the Ave Paral.lel. My eyes sweep over the panorama below Barcelona, and then, rising above it, the unmistakeable shape of Gaudi’s masterpiece. Even from this distance, it looks like no other building I’ve ever seen, organic almost. We have to take a closer look.

The Sagrada Familia (Ann Burnett)

The Sagrada Familia (Ann Burnett)

The queues when we reach the basilica wind their way around the outside of the building along the adjacent streets, which gives us time to observe the building work, still very much ongoing. The Sagrada Familia (‘holy family’) is still a work in progress more than 130 years after the foundation stone was laid in 1882. And it will not be finished in my lifetime nor even that of my children.

Gaudi’s name is the one most associated with this Unesco World Heritage site but he is not the only architect to have worked on it. However, it is his vision and ideas, coupled with the detailed drawings and plans he left, which are the driving force behind this unique building.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • This is a unique and fascinating piece of architecture
  • You can’t visit Barcelona and not come to see it
  • Whatever your faith, or even if you have none at all, it is well worth seeing, particularly the interior

Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi took on the project of building the basilica in 1892 after a substantial sum of money was donated to it enabling him to develop his creative skills. He wanted to integrate the laws of nature with architecture and his experiments with this idea can be seen throughout Barcelona.

Knowing that the building of the church would take generations, he decided to complete one facade of it, the Nativity, during his lifetime so that his ideas and vision could be seen by the citizens, and hopefully spur them on to continue it. Gaudi died in 1926 after being knocked down by a tram but he was able to see one of the bell towers completed and had drawn up plans for the rest.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 saw much destruction of the building and work was halted. But the process of repairing and continuing Gaudi’s work has continued, with the Passion facade almost completed and further bell towers under construction.

The Sagrada Familia Close up

The queue moves slowly forward until eventually we can purchase our tickets and enter by the Passion facade. Sharp, angular figures depict Christ’s passion on the outside of the basilica. Sculpted by Josep Maria Subirachs, around 100 figures on the stonework show scenes of Christ’s betrayal, scourging and crucifixion.

The interior with the tree-like columns (Ann Burnett)

The interior with the tree-like columns (Ann Burnett)

But it is as we step inside that the beauty and originality of Gaudi’s work strikes us. Huge columns shaped like trees branch and twist towards the vaults high above. We strain our heads upwards, the better to take in the leaf and floral shaped ceilings.

Tall stained glass windows send light and color dancing across the floor. It is an awesome sight. There is so much, almost too much, to take in and I find the audio guide a useful extra in pointing out what to look at and offering explanations of what I see.

The main entrance will eventually be through the Glory facade, as yet unfinished, but the huge bronze doors for it are already in place. On them are carved the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Catalan, the language of the region, and surrounding it, ‘Give us our daily bread’ in 50 different languages.

We take the elevator up one of the bell towers and climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top. From there, views stretch across the city in all directions. I spot Montjuic hill from where we first glimpsed the basilica. Bunches of grapes and sheaves of corn in red and gold and purple decorate the tops of pinnacles which we can now see close up.

The narrow spiral staircase down (Ann Burnett)

The narrow spiral staircase down (Ann Burnett)

We walk all the way down to the bottom, down the tight spiral stairway with a handrail on one side and a very long drop on the other. Occasionally a head from a visitor further down will pop out to see how far they have yet to go.

Outside again, this time at the Nativity facade, the carvings are softer, more intricate, like a garden growing up the stonework. They tell the story of Christ’s birth and his early life. We rest in the sunshine and follow the biblical story presented in stone before us.

It’s impossible to see everything in just one visit, but above all, I just wish I was around to see the basilica completed.


  • Buy your tickets in advance on the internet or from tourist information offices to avoid the long queues.
  • Take an audio guide (available in many languages) as it gives an easy to listen to explanation of what you are looking at and guides you around the building.
  • It is a church so they ask that your dress and behavior is appropriate to the surroundings.

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