Sagrada Familia, is an architectural gem in Barcelona’s sprawling skyline, a reflection of the prodigal Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s distinct imagination and style. The sublime beauty of Sagrada Familia transcends the layers of Catalonia’s rich cultural history and in the words of Gaudi himself, “The temple as a whole, as well being a place for divine worship, will artistically represent the truths of religion and the glorification of God and His Saints.”
The ornamental beauty of this towering structure originates from the striking synergy between Christian iconography and Gaudi’s unique form that is inspired by the patterns he found in nature. The colourful stained glass panes that run in harmony with the delicate carvings which adorn the Church’s façade, are a fine example of Art Nouveau and Catalan Noucentisme architecture.
Inspired by the mores of Gothic and Byzantine cathedrals, the foundation stone for Sagrada Familia was laid over a century ago in 1882, and 135 years later, this iconic monument is still a decade away from completion. The complexity of this massive structure lies in its design, and creating this masterpiece to its last detail requires enormous funding, the lack of which, has slowed the realisation of this dream-like structure.
The perpetual queue of people waiting to buy a ticket to experience La Sagrada Familia Barcelona is a testimony to the structure’s popularity among locals and tourists. We understand that waiting in line for buying tickets to experience the phenomena that is Sagrada Familia, can put a damper on your spirits.
You can save yourself hours of standing in these endless lines by either booking a ticket in advance, or by opting for one of the guided tour options.
You can buy your Sagrada Familia online tickets, well before your trip to Barcelona. Once you confirm your booking with the date and time of your visit, you will receive an e-copy of your ticket which you can display at Sagrada Familia to gain priority access.
One of the best ways to explore any place, specially a historical monument like the Sagrada Familia, is to go with a trained guide. In this case, opting for this option not only opens up a mine of information, but also gives you priority access to the structure. Depending upon what you prefer, you can choose between three tour options: Self-guided tour, Tour with an audio-guide, or Sagrada familia guided tour with a trained official guide.
La Sagrada Familia opens at 9:00 AM everyday and this is when the crowd is at its least. It's not absent, since many people do get there before the gates have opened. However, you do get to enjoy the basilica with a comparatively lesser crowd around.
The foundation for the Nativity façade was laid in 1892. It was Gaudi’s decision to first build this part of the Church. In his words, “If, instead of building this decorated, richly ornamented facade, we had started with the hard, bare and skeletal Passion facade, people would have rejected it.”
If you are an architecture fanatic or just a curious traveller, witnessing the beauty of this part of the Church will transport you back in history. Don’t miss the Rosary portal which is part of this façade, and is one of the entrances to the Basilica. The first of the four bell towers on this side of the structure was dedicated to Saint Barnabus, and is 100 meters tall. Its construction was finished on 30th November, 1925. For any Gaudi fan, this is an important piece of architecture as this was the only tower he saw getting completed before he died. The mosaics that spell out ‘Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Hosanna in Excelsis, Amen, Alleluia’, decorate the tops of these towers. Just remember to look up when you are there.
The Passion facade is strikingly different in form when compared to the Nativity Facade. Contrasting the smooth classical curves of the statues on the Nativity Facade are bare stone statues on the Passion Facade that have been carved with straight lines - representing the passion and suffering of Jesus Christ. The statues on this facade have been made to resemble the bones of a skeleton and also hint at the sins of man.
The Passion Façade faces west and and is symbolic of the death of Jesus. Supported by six large columns, the pyramidal pediment of the facade culminates into a large cross with a crown of thorns. The Passion Façade also has four spires, dedicate to apostles James, Philip, Thomas and Judas. The building of Passion façade started back in 1954, and later, a crypt was built here inside which a Museum was set up in 1961. It provides a wealth of information about the history of the temple, and contains details about its artistic, symbolic and technical aspects.
The towers of the Sagrada Familia Basilica are a formidable sight. Of the 18 towers that Gaudi envisioned, 8 have been completed - 4 towers on the Nativity Facade and 4 towers on the Passion Facade. You can access these towers if you have a ticket with tower admission enabled. The towers on the Nativity Facade look over the east of Barcelona while the towers of the Passion Facade face the city centre. You can use an elevator to go up the tower, however, one must take the stairs down from the towers.
The floorplan of the Sagrada Familia is that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave is significantly higher than the 4 side naves. The central nave vaults are 150 feet tall while the side nave vaults are 100 feet in height. The original plan was similar to that of a Gothic church but the need for external support and flying buttresses pushed Gaudí into coming up with an ingenious structure using pillars and columns that branch out like trees into the vault.
The materials used to make these columns vary. The longest and thickest columns are made of red porphyry, a very hard volcanic rock. Basalt and granite has been used to make the dark, somewhat smaller pillars while the outermost row of pillars in the church use a relatively soft rock from Montjuic, the mountain of Barcelona.
In architecture, one half of a dome roofed area is called an Apse. In a church, the Apse is usually the structure that houses the altar. The Sagrada Familia’s Apse was built by Gaudí in 1894, immediately after the construction of the crypt was completed. The open structure of the apse, with its beautiful windows, floods the apse with light during the day. The raised altar lies in the center of the apse and is crowned by the Latin cross with a canopy decorated with grapevines. The organ pipes are placed behind the altar.
The inside walls of the apse are decorated with angels’ heads and tears. The apse is surrounded by seven chapels and has side stairs to its left and right. These stairs lead to spiral staircases from the crypt and continue up into their respective façades. Two big stone snails crawling down the walls of the apse act as an indication for this spiral staircase.
Gaudi's love for colour is well-known and the no other work of his showcases this more than the beautiful and vibrant stained glass windows of the Sagrada Familia - painting the interiors with beautiful hues of red, green, blue and yellow. In order to achieve a harmony of colour and light, the windows have been arranged in a particular manner. The windows of the lower part are brightly coloured while those on the upper half are almost translucent, thus lighting up the interior and making the vaulted ceilings stand out.
The Cloister of Our Lady of Dolours is connected to the sacristy on the west side of the Sagrada Familia. The “Way of the Liturgy”, an exhibition of pieces Antoni Gaudí designed for the Catholic liturgy, is located in the cloister. The exhibition includes wrought iron candlestick, a cross with candles and a lectern three sacral.
The sacristy to which the cloister connects is a bright, open space where priests get ready before mass. The sacristy has two closets – one to store the liturgical vestments worn by the priests and another to store liturgical objects such as chalices and patens. Each part of the cloister and the sacristy has been designed by Antoni Gaudí himself.
The Crypt at Sagrada Familia is the oldest part of the Church and is said to have been under works even before Gaudi was commissioned to design and build the rest of Sagrada Familia. Unlike the rest of Sagrada Familia, the Crypt is constructed in Neo-Renaissance style with mosaic floors depicting luscious vines, columns that are richly decorated with roots, leaves and branches; all of which served as a precursor to the fantastic concepts that were to become Gaudi's intrepid designs. Antoni Gaudi is buried in the Crypt ( to the left of the main altar) and there are frequent masses held in Crypt.
The Sagrada Familia Museum is an underground exhibition that houses Gaudi’s construction models, drawings, contemporary photographs and liturgical furnishings. In the fire of 1936, many of Gaudi’s designs and plaster models were destroyed. After a painstaking process of collecting the destroyed models and restoring them, the Sagrada Familia Museum was opened in the semi-basement under the Passion façade.
Today, visitors can look at these models to get an understanding of the scale of the construction that Gaudi initiated. The complexity of it all is not lost when one goes through his models and drawings. The exhibitions are part of the new “Inspired by nature” section and feature a 102-m² space with large-format photos and 20 plaster models. The museum aims at helping visitors understand the role nature played in Gaudi’s designs.
The best time to visit Sagrada Familia would be early in the morning between 9 AM and 10 AM. The lines for the elevators are shorter in the morning, crowds are sparse and climbing the towers will be easier with lesser crowds. The stained glass windows are it's best at noon, when the afternoon sun pours in through the colourful fragments of glass.
If you can't make it in the morning, avoid going between 12 PM - 3 PM as these tend to be the most crowded hours. Everyone flocks in to watch the stained glass phenomenon and tourist groups have maximum guided tours during these hours, hence avoid these 3 hours at all costs
The second best time to visit Sagrada Familia would be post 4 PM. Start with the Towers first, then tour the Church and finally visit the Crypt as it opens around 6 PM for mass. These hours have considerable crowds too. Once the night falls, watching Sagrada Familia lit up is a sight behold too.