Sagrada Família, Barcelona’s sightly landmark and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, is well known for two things: Its architect, Antoni Gaudí, and how unfinished it still is after over 130 years of construction.
Gaudí started construction of this church in 1882 for which he was commissioned to design by Josep Bocabella and the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph. So, why is the construction and restoration of this nearly 140-year-old structure unfinished? Let’s dive in.
Design elements of the Basílica’s facade
Since Antoni Gaudí was anything but conventional, he designed every single detail of his artwork with his own hands using various commonly found materials, including ceramic pieces, natural stone and marble, and even wire mesh, in an unorthodox manner throughout Sagrada Família.
Understandably, given the duration of the project, today’s building doesn’t bear a mirror resemblance to the original design. But there are some elements that have remained true over nearly 140 years.
Exterior design elements
The Nativity facade is the main facade of Barcelona’s vast cathedral church. It is a dedicated representation of the birth of Christ and exudes creativity.
Gaudí, who was also a devout Catholic, created this facade with strong religious overtones and consecrated the design with Christ right at the centre of the scene. The Nativity facade faces the northeast direction towards the rising sun and is embellished in marble pelicans, turtles, and a tree of life. With its intricate and fanciful sculptural decorations, this is the most elaborate and considered to be the most impressive work among all of Gaudí’s works.
The Passion facade is one of the most striking facades on the Sagrada Família. This beautiful facade serves as a reminder of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a series of sculptural scenes depicting the events of Jesus Christ’s final days and is quite the opposite of the Nativity facade in terms of design as it has a more “skeletal feel” due to a lack of flowing elements.
The facade is ornamented with 18 bone-shaped pillars, signifying Christ’s body. With a more angular effect, the Passion facade also faces towards the opposite direction of the Nativity facade, that is, towards the setting sun.
The Glory facade is the most important of the three as it represents the eternal glory of Christ. Unfortunately, this is the only and final part of the construction that hasn’t been completed yet. The construction for this section has been going on since 2002 and according to Antoni’s vision, it should contain representations of death, final judgement, and hell and heaven.
Interior design elements
The structural design of the Sagrada Família church is a forest-like structure made up of columns, arches and flying buttresses. The central nave of the Basílica flares out, similar to tree trunks so that the visitors don’t feel like they are visiting a church, but a nature retreat instead.
Hydraulic lime apse
The apse at the Sagrada Família is made of hydraulic limestone, which was highly resistant to weathering, even in Barcelona’s coastal climate. To pay homage to the traditional architectural approach, Gaudí actually embellished the canopy in vines and crowned it with a golden mosaic dome. The mosaic is also a representation of Catholicism as it illustrates the Holy Trinity using a triangle within a circle as symbolism.
Because everything about Gaudí’s design was unconventional, a range of obscure stained-glass windows also found their perfect place within Sagrada Família’s structure. But there is a method to the madness.
The glass is stained in three colours: yellow, green, and blue, each signifying a different meaning and the windows are the primary source of light for the church as well as helping to establish an appropriate setting for prayer and meditation.
Why Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família still isn’t finished after 139 years
Long story short, the work Gaudí did on Sagrada Família attracted him a lot of big-ticket commissions. As long as he lived, he was tied up with other projects and was unable to give his undivided attention to the Basílica.
At age 57, Gaudí dedicatedly turned towards the Basílica and devoted all his time to complete the structure. Even after his death at age 73, his close associate, Domènec Sugrañes, kept the construction going for nearly a decade.
Unfortunately, Spain’s political scenario couldn’t protect the church. In 1936, members of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) set Gaudí’s studio on fire and destroyed several important drawings, plans, and documents along with his vision for the church. The torching also left Sagrada Família’s structure heavily affected and set the construction back by decades.
During this political unrest, Sugrañes passed away, which understandably orphaned the project. After almost two decades of his death, the construction of the Nativity facade began, followed by that of the Passion facade. As mentioned earlier, the Glory facade is yet to be completed and is the only unfinished part of this mammoth project.
The project involves such intricacies that it was supposed to be completed in 2026 – that is, 144 years after it was initially commissioned. But owing to the pandemic, the Basílica will now get a new estimated time of completion, which hasn’t been announced yet.
Since the construction has entered its final phase, we can only hope for the restoration to complete within the next decade.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take See Brilliance that long to restore your buildings. Our team has 30+ years of experience in cleaning and restoring stone facades, glass, metal, and many other types of building facade from the UK’s unforgiving weather and environmental conditions.
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