Our first day in Barcelona was so warm, so full of sunshine it was magical. The weather was like a lovely winter day in Sydney and totally unlike anything you get in England during winter – in fact it would top almost any spring or early summer day!
Starting, after a confusing moment when we tried to get breakfast in a bar and got strong but fantastic coffee but no food, by walking down La Ramblas, admiring the architecture and facades of the buildings and revelling in the sunshine. We decided to go and see the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished and truly wonderful masterpiece that Gaudi devoted much of his time to before his death in 1926. It was started in 1882 and is still not completed, with work ongoing on the exterior – almost every postcard and picture you will see has the cranes digitally removed, as you can see by the picture on the right, they are everywhere! It’s facade is quite unusual, from a distance it kind of looks like a sand castle, like someone has dribbled very wet sand over finely constructed spires. Once you get closer you can see the detailed sculptures and decoration – Gaudi didn’t like straight lines as he said that they didn’t occur in nature, so he made everything bend, sway or curve. Each main portal inside has a specific theme, the Nativity and the Crucifixion or Passion. Gaudi was very faithful to his religion and his work is littered with references to Christianity. When asked about the amount of time it was taking to finish Sagrada Familia, he said the client ‘wasn’t in a rush’, and when you reflect on the amount of time taken to finish those medieval cathedrals, I think he has a point.
After walking almost right around the cathedral, we finally found the ticket office and the entrance. We elected to get the Tower Lift ticket too – you get a specific time for your lift up into the ether and the attendant was very strict on the exact time. Since we had about 1/2 hour to wait for our lift, we walked around the interior and marvelled. It’s like walking in a forest – the soaring columns are swayed and almost seem to bend in the wind. The stained glass (unfinished in parts) lets the sunlight pour in with a dappled effect. There were a lot of people but it felt peaceful, with lots of space. Maybe Gaudi was going for the feeling of spirituality that you can get by being in a natural space, like a forest. Who hears the trees?
There are so many features of the Sagrada Familia, like the four different stones used to make the columns, the messages of the stained glass, the soaring ceiling and the seating for a 1000 strong choir. The many different chapels around the nave that are singled out for silent reflection and prayer, which are mostly honoured by the heaving mass of people come to see the building.
Once we’d waited in line for the lift, it takes about 6 people in a ride to the top of a spire and the city of Barcelona is before you. Look out for the crane, it’s very hard to spot (ha ha!). If you’re okay with heights and being in an elevator with glass windows, this is well worth the extra money. There is an option to go back down the stairs, which made me suspicious that you could probably climb the stairs up – although it’s a very long way, so it’s possible that would only be for the very fit or the very broke. From these heights, you can also see some of the detail that is surely lost on the people on the ground, like the bunches of fruit that decorate the spires and the fine mosaic work. Which does make it likely that Gaudi had the foresight that such viewings would be taking place.
Once down on the lowly ground again, we had another trek through the forest floor before heading outside into the sun. The small school that Gaudi had built for the cathedral workers and their families is still there, with a waved roof and a drinking fountain on the side. We went into the small museum/shrine to Gaudi in the crypt, hundreds of scale models of different aspects of the building and a few personal artefacts of Gaudi. His body lay in state in a chapel in the crypt when he was killed crossing the road in 1926. I don’t think he is buried here, and you can’t access the chapel.
The place where you enter and exit the Cathedral is the Passion Gate, the sculptures here are not Gaudi, they belong to a colleague and were completed after his death. There is a man that resembles Gaudi in the crowd surrounding Jesus in one of the sculptures I can’t find the photo of that one though, think Mum has it.
I would say, if you had one day in Barcelona, this should be The thing that you see that day. Be a part of history and visit while it is still being completed! In days such as these, how many can say that they’ve been to a cathedral that is still being built? Unless, of course, you time travel. Then you might go to the planet Barcelona and not the city!