Sagrada Familia: A ‘wonder’ in progress

Epic, as an adjective, is often over-used. Epic is defined as grand, impressive, remarkable. But when you are talking about the Basilica de La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, epic doesn’t seem to do it justice. It really is something you need to see in person. Your travel advisors at GetAway Travel have been there and we can truly attest to the fact that it is grand, impressive, remarkable and, yes, an epic example of architecture and spirituality. We can help you plan your adventure to Spain with a stop at Sagrada Familia. 

 Construction began in 1882 

 Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar was the original architect and he resigned in 1883 and Antonio Gaudi took over. It is the largest unfinished Catholic Church in the world, one of the oldest buildings in the world still under construction and the tallest religious building in Europe. It is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic examples of Gaudi’s work. It combines architectural elements that pay homage to nature, Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism and Spanish Late Gothic. It draws more than four million visitors each year. 

Gaudi wanted to make Sagrada Familia the tallest building in Barcelona. He believed nothing made by man should eclipse what God created in nature, so the finished center tower is about 558 feet tall, a little less than three feet shorter than Montjuïc Mountain in Barcelona. Sagrada Familia started off as a church, became a cathedral but is now a basilica. A cathedral is the seat of a bishop, but a basilica is a church recognized by the pope as being highly important based on cultural or historical significance. 

In the early years of construction, Gaudi built a school for the children of construction workers. He also honored construction workers by embedding their faces in sculptures and carvings around the basilica. And, Gaudi’s face is in at least two areas that were completed before his death. He is portrayed as St. Joseph in the Nativity façade and St. John in the Passion façade. 

UNESCO, despite it being a work in progress, designated it a World Heritage site in 1984 and in 2005, the Nativity façade and Sagrada Familia crypt were also declared World Heritage sites. 

 All design aspects serve a purpose 

 Gaudi’s designs, inspired by nature, contain no completely straight lines or 90-degree angles. His style is fluid and each detail of the basilica is highly symbolic, including the set-up of the outside area. His plans indicate he was inspired by tales from architects of medieval times who saw churches as central figures of a population area. Churches were meeting places and meant to be a guide to those who were arriving.  

But Gaudi didn’t want just one spire pointing to the sky, he wanted 18! Eleven spires are done The hollow spires with their accent holes are meant to resemble a bee hive and they illuminate the basilica with sunlight and moonlight. 

Speaking of light, Gaudi developed a new type of stained glass window. The three-glass panes mix the tones and colors in the windows creating a constant light flow around the building. The interior can hold nearly 9,000 worshippers and will hold more when it is completed. Completion is scheduled for 2026. 

The interior vaulting, or roof supports, distribute light, but also make for fabulous acoustics. Gaudi wanted glorious music to fill the basilica and the choir space can hold 1,000 singers. 

A bombing destroyed some of Gaudi’s original documents and plans, but many have been restored and conserved. Visitors can view drawings, period photographs and scale models of Gaudi’s original plans in his workshop in the basilica. 

 Nature, spiritual insight provided inspiration 

 The basilica was designed to honor Jesus’s family and the towers represent him, his mother, the four evangelists and the 12 apostles. 

The interior pillars resemble trees and as you look up, the pillars — the thus the trees — grow and change. The images of the turtle and the tortoise on the pillars symbolizes the water and the earth and their relationship. 

There are three main façades, Nativity, Passion and Glory and each of the façades have intricate porticos or carved and detailed arch supports. 

The Nativity façade was completed by Gaudi before his death and it has three porticos called Hope, Faith and Charity.  

The Nativity façade has two towers and there is a small bridge you can cross to get spectacular views of the interior and there are small balconies for viewing. The Nativity towers contain the symbols of the bishop with the bishop’s headpiece at the top, the bishop’s staff represented in the “trunk” and the bishop’s ring can been seen in the center. 

The towers of the Passion façade, which is under construction, has elevators, but you still have to walk down the 400 spiral steps to get down. 

Some visitors are startled by the “tree of life” at the top of one of the Nativity’s façade porticos. It is a bright, green cypress tree that has a sort of festive Christmas feel because it is done in green polychrome. It symbolizes eternity since it is ever green and the 21 white doves on the tree are poised in flight. 

The porticos in the Nativity façade depict the different aspects of the birth of Jesus, angels celebrating the birth by singing and playing instruments and the shepherds who came to honor the baby. 

The intricate are of the Charity portico shows the Annunciation where the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bring the son of God into the world. Surrounding the scene is signs of the zodiac detailing how the constellations in the sky would have looked when Jesus was born. Band of rosary beads frame the scene and hanging around the rosary are carved medallions representing medals that adorn rosary bracelets.  

The Glory façade, on the South side of the church, will be completed per Gaudi’s sketches. It is designed to represent eternal life. It is highly symbolic and will have seven columns dedicated to the seven holy gifts, five doors corresponding to the five naves of the basilica and the central door will have three entrances. From the Glory façade you can view the four towers that represent the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 


Even though it is still under construction, the Sagrada Familia is a modern wonder that should not be missed. If Spain, and this inspiring basilica are in your future travel plans, GetAway Travel advisors stand ready to get your planning underway! Reach us at (262) 538-2140, e-mail: or 







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