Postcards: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

My first glimpse of La Sagrada Familia was almost a letdown.

I had looked forward to seeing the basilica considered by some to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and I held my breath in anticipation as we walked up from the underground metro. But the first things I saw were cranes. Cranes, scaffolding, safety screens and other construction equipment.


I knew before I went that the Sagrada Familia is yet to be finished (construction was started in 1882 and it is not expected to be finished before 2026). But I wasn’t prepared for the near-chaos of what seemed to be an ongoing major construction site.

It was a windy day but there were hundreds of people either lining up for a tour of the church or lingering and taking pictures in the square. A taekwondo group was, strangely enough, setting up for a martial arts exhibition.

I had imagined that Antoni Gaudi‘s obra would be situated in a square as grand as the one near the Palacio Real in Madrid. Instead, the Sagrada Familia seems to have been plunked down in a crowded area, surrounded by unremarkable (albeit expensive) apartment buildings.

I can’t tell my Gothic from my rococo. So to my untrained (and astigmatic) eye, the Sagrada Familia appeared to be a giant edifice where all sorts of architectural styles had been jumbled together by someone whose insanity was given free rein. (Clearly, I know nothing, haha.) It was so…different. So weird. I thought to myself, Maybe the weirdness is what all the fuss is really about because I’m not getting it.

Conscious, however, that it was a privilege for me to stand in front of the iconic building (declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), I got busy taking pictures of whatever corner of the church facade my zoom lens could reach. I just clicked away, thinking less ‘wow!’ than ‘OK, there’s some sort of detail there, let me take a picture of it’.

Back at the hotel, I uploaded the photos to my laptop, clicked through them and … was blown away.

The Sagrada Familia is magnificent.

Every square foot of its facade is so richly detailed, it is obviously the work of a genius who was determined to make it his singular masterpiece.

Biblical characters and symbolism abound in the church’s vari-colored facade.

They say that it was Gaudi’s dream to turn La Sagrada Familia into the architectural equivalent of the Bible, with all major Biblical characters represented therein.

There is a pond and small park facing the Sagrada Familia where one can escape from the crowds, sit on a bench and stare at the building that not a few call a gaudy monstrosity but which others say (rightly, I think) may be the most fascinating structure on earth.


(Note: For a closer look at the details, right-click on some of the pictures in ‘landscape’ mode and open them in new tabs.

Please click here for my other posts on Spain. 

45 thoughts on “Postcards: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

  1. I too was disappointed with all the construction, and this was 10 years ago, but as you so aptly noted, there is such strange beauty beneath the first glimpse. A nice sleection of photos that capture that beauty.

  2. It is a fascinating structure, isn’t it. I can see how it might disappoint at first with all the cranes, scaffolding and the crowds of tourists; but it is the insanity of dreaming to build sth like this that makes it so remarkable.
    I went through the same kind of experience when I visited the cathedral in Cologne. All I could see at first was a huge black mass of stone. Then I started looking at the details of the facade and realised how incredible it is .

    • I love that, the ‘insanity of dreaming to build’ such a basilica is exactly that. I look at the details on the facade and go, what kind of mind thinks up these things? But they’re beautiful and not just (as I initially thought) because they’re weird. 🙂

  3. Fabulous! You really had me going there Tita- I thought I was going to have to revise my ideas of this amazing structure. Then you zoomed in and WOW! Beautiful photos and I love the way you’ve done this.

    • Thanks, Jo! I realized I couldn’t post about the amazing detailing on the church’s facade without showing the actual surroundings. They’re part of my tourist-y experience. 🙂

  4. I felt the exact same way about the Sagrada Familia the first time I saw it, but it definitely gets better the more you look at it. Supposedly, when it’s done it’s going to be nearly twice as tall as it is now!

    • I’m actually excited now about how it’ll look when it’s finished. Were you able to check out the interiors? They must have been even more amazing. 🙂

      • Yeah! Actually, the interior is kind of underwhelming because the construction is so intense. But I went 2 years ago, and it seems to have progressed a lot. Either way, how many times do you get to see something like that being built?

    • So true! That’s why I decided to post larger versions of some of the images. There’s so much that isn’t apparent at first but when you look closer even extra figures seem to just pop out of nowhere. 🙂

    • Now that you mentioned it, yes, it does look like a sandcastle. Although, I will still vote for Hogwarts, hahaha. And I’m curious now as to what your favorite building in Barcelona is. 😀

      • It’s Santa Maria del Mar cathedral. I read a book calle the Cathedral of the Sea (La catedral del mar) by Ildefonso Falcones, about the construction of this cathedral, among other things. I loved it.

  5. Since I took Spanish history and art, this is one piece of architecture I have always wanted to see Tita. Insane he was, brilliant, without a doubt but Gaudi’s greatest gift is truly that dream of constructing a miraculous building which is akin to the bible. I think your photos are perfect and showcase every bit of the genius he was. This is exactly how I felt when I saw the Acropolis with all the cranes and reconstruction going on. When I walked to the other side however, I saw what it signified and I dreamed of mythological gods meeting here. I also felt this way seeing David – no construction, just plain old emotion. How beautiful is that statue right?

    • That is what fascinates me the most: How exactly did he plan to include all the major characters and depict the major biblical stories in the basilica? And because we won’t see the entirety of his design before 2026, we don’t know if he managed to. How intriguing is that?

      (Oh, now that you mentioned David. I only saw the so-called reproductions — altho they’re not really that, right? — of David on the piazzas of Florence. Only thing I can say is, buns of steel. Hahaha!)

      • Ha!!! ha!!! Tita, I love the buns of steel bit. I am just about to get ‘the Agony and the Ecstasy’ – have you read? So it implies that Michelangelo was gay, didn’t know that was the general consensus, although, It doesn’t surprise me 🙂 🙂 David is perfect isn’t he? I stared a lot when I finally saw it, oh my, everything is so perfectly carved and I mean everything…

      • Oh my gosh, I totally meant to talk about La Sagrada Familia.. But um, got carried away with David:-)
        I would like to visit Barcelona in 2026 just to see it completed… Sigh!!

  6. Whoa! beautiful! I don’t know why but looking at the pics seem to remind me of the cartoon “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. 🙂 Looks like a “building art”.

  7. Thank you for another lovely post Tita! As a building, I much prefer the Casa Batilo, but the symbolism in every minute detail of the Sagrada Familia is unbelievable! I too was disappointed at first and now look at my pictures and wonder how I could have been 🙂

    • Thanks, Madhu! It seems most of those who’ve been there initially felt the same disappointment. I’m really glad I had a zoom lens with me or I might be singing a different tune right now. 🙂

  8. There was a tv programme on it a couple of nights ago here in UK – didn’t realise it was so hiiiiiiigh. And the stained glass windows do look stupendous.

    I have not seen it, been over that way etc; my son has. I must get him under the bright light and pump him for info!

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