According to the data provided by the Spanish Ministry, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, better known as the Sagrada Familia, welcomed 4,5 million visitors in 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19. This way, it became the most visited monument in Spain that year, as well as one of the most visited buildings in the world.
A recent study conducted by TripAdvisor suggests the Sagrada Familia is the most beautiful building in the world too, beating other impressive buildings like Notre-Dame, the Taj Mahal, or the Milan Cathedral. The church designed by Catalan architect Gaudí stands on top of a ranking of the 20 most beautiful buildings in the world, which were selected thanks to 760 million ratings from users belonging to 120 different countries. But what is so special about this church, you might wonder? Why does so many people visit it every year? Let us tell you everything about it.
The construction of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família began in 1866, promoted by the religious group called Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José. The original project came into the hands of an architect called Francisco de Paula del Villar, who undertook the temple’s construction in 1882. However, Francisco de Paula soon gave up on the project.
In 1883, modernist architect Antoni Gaudí took over the project, although his approach was quite different to the original neo-Gothic design. The constructions began once more in 1889. This could have ended the prospects of the Sagrada Familia ever becoming the most beautiful building in the world, but luckily enough, an anonymous donation arrived, and Gaudí did not throw away his shot: he let his imagination run wild and designed a masterpiece that would break all the records in the history of modern architecture.
This way, the architect used his experience in former projects to add a series of innovative elements to the Sagrada Familia. He also used architecture solutions like hyperboloid structures, paraboloid shapes and helical columns, which we can also see in his Park Güell. When it comes to the towers of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí drew inspiration from a project for the Catholic Franciscan missions in Tangier he never got to finish.
He could never finish the Sagrada Familia either, since he died in 1926 as a consequence of a tramcar accident. 10 years after his death, most of his plans and original models got lost or destroyed due to the Spanish Civil War. The construction works resumed in 1943, and they are still ongoing, although they are expected to be finished by 2026.
The church has been financed by donations since the beginning. The very Antoni Gaudí said that “The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família has been made by the people and it shows. It is a creation of God and the will of the people”.
As we said before, Gaudí worked on the Sagrada Familia since 1883 until he died in 1926. He could only see the crypt, the Nativity Façade, and the bell tower of San Bernabé finished. The rest of the Basilica has been built by other people.
Nevertheless, the construction works remained loyal to the plans and sketches left by the Catalan architect. Others have participated in the design since, and they have reinterpreted his legacy in different ways. This has led to multiple controversies regarding the appropriateness of continuing Gaudí’s work after his death, since the sketches and models that have been preserved are mostly confusing.
The Sagrada Familia of Barcelona has the typical floor plan in the shape of a cross, with beautiful façades on all its arms. To the East of the building, we can admire the Nativity Façade, the only one Gaudí finished. It is decorated with sculptures by Carles Maní y Llorenç and Joan Matamala, with paintings by Ricard Opisso, and it portrays the early years of Jesus’ life.
The Passion Façade lies on the West part of the Basilica, and it is more austere and simple, but it is already finished. Its construction began in 1954, following the drawings of Gaudí, and it has been heavily criticized for the personal interpretation of the sculptor Josep Maria Subirach. This façade portrays the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. This is why it looks more stark, just as the architect intended. Before he died, Gaudí said the façade should be “hard, bare, as if it were made of bones”.
The last façade, the one even the architect knew he would never get to see, is the Glory Façade, whose construction works are still ongoing. It represents the glory of Jesus Christ and his ascension into heaven. It was meant to be the main façade, and the most monumental of the three. It is already the highest one.
When it comes to the towers of the church, Gaudí’s original project contemplated 18 of them: 12 dedicated to the apostles (4 for each façade), 4 to Evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary and the last one, the highest and most important tower, to Jesus Christ. Out of those 18, only 11 have been finished, the ones honouring the apostles in the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade, 2 Evangelist towers that were finished in 2022, and the one dedicated to Mary, which was inaugurated late in 2021.
Nothing is there by chance in the Sagrada Familia. Each of the rooms and the elements we can see there has a particular meaning or plays a role on the whole composition, even the lights that enter the church through its colourful stained glasses. The Basilica has five naves, the main one being the highest and connecting to the crossing. At the back, the apse holds the main altarpiece and seven chapels.
Doubtlessly, one of the things that strike out the most about the temple’s interior are the columns rising over the visitor’s head. The Sagrada Familia has no less than 36 columns that intertwine in the ceiling like ancient trees in a forest, and that was precisely Gaudí’s intention: blending nature and architecture, one of the main hallmarks of his work. The four columns in the centre of the building were built to honour the Evangelists too.
As it has been mentioned, light plays an important role on Gaudí’s architecture. He shaped it by choosing different colours for the stained glasses. This way, the windows displaying bright colours were placed at the bottom, and the translucent ones on top. The yellow, green and blue shades symbolise the birth of Jesus. The red and orange colours of the Passion Façade represent water, light and resurrection.
Another thing you cannot miss in the Sagrada Familia is the crypt, which was built between 1882 and 1891. It was originally designed by Francisco de Paula and then transformed by Gaudí, who added naturalistic capitals to the pillars and a dome. The crypt comprises four chapels, and the very architect was buried here.
There is also a museum in the basement of the Sagrada Familia that really is worth visiting. It is located under the crossing, in the same spot where there used to be a workshop in the past.
The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is located in the district of Eixample, and it is open all year long, although the opening hours do vary depending on the day. From November to February, the church can be visited from 9am to 6pm. Between March and October, it closes one hour later, at 7pm. In summer, more precisely from April to September, the Basilica will close at 8pm. The closing time remains the same on Sundays, but it opens a bit later, at 10.30am.
Apart from that, it has some days with restricted access, like the 25th and 26th December and the 1st and 6th January. On those particular days, we can only visit the Sagrada Familia from 9am to 2pm. One must book the tickets beforehand, and you can do so on their webpage. The price varies depending on the type of ticket you buy, whether you want to visit the towers, if you book a guided tour as well… The cost will be something between 26 and 40 euros without discounts. It is worth remembering that the money we pay to visit it is actually a donation that will contribute to the construction of the Sagrada Familia.