One of the most outstanding architectural sites within Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi’s Unfinished Cathedral, otherwise known as the Sagrada Familia. This is possibly Gaudí’s greatest and most impressive work of art, clearly summarising and encompassing elements of his other works in this enormous structure. The structural difficulties he faced and errors he committed in other projects are revisited and resolved in Sagrada Familia.
Born in 1852, Gaudi was perhaps a man before his time within the field of architecture. His family had been coppersmiths and Gaudi believed that his ability to see forms directly in space without really requiring great planning could be attributed to his heritage. Paradoxically, whilst strangely modernistic, the style of Sagrada Familia has been called “warped Gothic”, and it’s easy to see why.
The rippling contours of the stone façade make it look as though it is melting in the sun, whilst the towers are topped with brightly-coloured mosaics almost resembling bowls of fruit (vaguely reminiscent of Dali’s egg-turrets in Figeueras). Gaudí believed that “colour is life”.
The cathedral has, since it’s origination in 1883 remained unfinished. Gaudi died in 1926 as a result of a streetcar accident and that began a controversy. Were subsequent inheritants meant to finish the building with what they thought he’d have wanted (many of Gaudi’s plans were destroyed under Franco’s rule)? Or should another architect take a shot at completing the building in a similar style? In total Gaudi himself worked on the project for 43 years and also left some coloured drawings of his vision for future architects to follow, so any brave project managers in future would have a lot to live up to!
The church actually has two fronts rather than a back and front. One front represents the birth of Christ and the other front represents the passion and resurrection of Christ. Originally it was intended that there be 18 tall spires: 12 for the Apostles, 4 for the Holy Family, and the tallest representing Christ. To date, 8 have been constructed that are 100m tall. Both facades have a great deal of detail. On the Nativity side, there are statues depicting the birth of Christ and other scenes from his life. You must look carefully to see them as the facade has a “find Waldo” kind of feel to it. The Passion facade was not put in place till 1952 and was done under the supervision of Gaudi’s colleagues Domenec Sugranes, Quintana and Isidre Puig i Boada.
There is much symbolism throughout the structure. The spire over the Charity Gate on the Nativity side was designed to look like a cypress tree. Attached to the “tree” is a flock of birds representing Christians flocking to the church. The interior columns are said to represent a forest; putting us in contact with God’s natural world. In 1992 work on the Unfinished Cathedral finally began again, and as work continued, a third facade representing the Glory of Christ emerged. Another notable example of his great innovation and foresight can be seen in Gaudí’s ”leaning columns” (that is, columns which are not at right angles to the floor and ceiling). Previously seen in Parque Güell, leaning columns form the structure of Sagrada Familia’s temple. When designing the temple, Gaudí invented an extraordinary method for determining the correct angle for each of the leaning columns. He made a small hanging model of the church, using string to represent the columns. Then he turned the model upside down and… gravity did the rest.
The ongoing construction of Sagrada Familia is paid for by tourism. When Sagrada Familia is entirely complete, the church will have a total of 18 towers, each dedicated to a different religious figure, and each one hollow, allowing the placement of various types of bells which will sound with the choir.
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