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Gaudi's magnum opus

C P Belliappa, Sep 23, 2012
work in progress Passion Facade of Sagrada Familia. photo by author

During our recent visit to Barcelona, we were excited at the prospect of seeing the home of our favourite soccer team, and it’s universally admired player Lionel Messi.

As we drove from the airport to our hotel, we did see huge hoardings of Messi promoting a variety of sports and luxury ware.

It was only the following day when we went on a tour of the city that we realised that the most celebrated personality in Barcelona was not Messi. That distinction goes to the eminent architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). There are several exceptional buildings, mansions, parks and a variety of unique structures designed by Gaudi that are located all over Barcelona, capital of Catalonian province in Spain. However, his crowning glory is the monumental Sagrada Familia, a church in honour of the Holy Family, construction of which started way back in 1882. Antoni Gaudi, a devout Catholic, got involved in the design and construction of this ambitious project during 1883, when he was 31 years old.

The architectural style developed by Gaudi is categorised as Modernisme, which is a combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau. Gaudi further experimented with designs he adopted from various parts of the world, and incorporated a distinct style in all his works. His style is unique and cannot be slotted in any one of the conventional designs.


Sagrada Familia is financed entirely by private donations because of which work was interrupted several times for want of funds. Antoni Gaudi used to personally collect alms to speed up the construction. From 1915 onwards, Gaudi devoted himself almost entirely to Sagrada Familia. As the structure evolved, visitors started referring to Gaudi as ‘Dante of Architecture’. Gaudi worked relentlessly and passionately on this project. A fashionable individual during his youth, he turned unmindful of his appearance in his later years. He remained a bachelor and was a workaholic. With unkempt beard and worn-out clothes, Gaudi used to be often mistaken for a beggar!

The design of Sagrada Familia envisaged by Gaudi has 18 spires and three façades. Out of these, eight spires, and two of the façades, have been completed as on date. The spires represent the 12 apostles, four evangelists, and Mother Mary. And finally, the tallest spire, yet to be built, will depict Jesus Christ. When completed, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest structure in Barcelona, and will be the tallest church in the world. Two of the façades completed at present are the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. The third and the most spectacular will be the Glory Façade, work for which commenced only in 2006.

The interior of the church is equally spectacular, awe inspiring, and unusual. The
incredibly high columns and vaults are shaped to resemble trees. Gaudi used hyperboloid structures to give the interior a surreal effect. At present, architects are using latest digital techniques to translate Gaudi’s design into reality.

It was on 7 June, 1926, while Antoni Gaudi was on his daily walk, that he was knocked down by a passing tram. Because of his appearance, he was mistaken for a homeless vagrant and did not receive immediate medical attention. By the time he was shifted to a hospital and was recognised, his condition had deteriorated. He died on 10 June, 1926.
In a fitting tribute, Gaudi was buried in Sagrada Familia. His is the only crypt in this magnificent edifice. At the time, only about 20 percent of his magnum opus was completed. The Spanish Civil War and World War II almost put an end to the project.

Interest in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia was rekindled during 1950s. Construction progressed in fits and starts, for want of funds. However, following the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Sagrada Familia attracted a great deal of international attention and awareness. Funds started trickling in.  By 2010, the main nave and about half of the overall construction was completed. On 7 November, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church for religious services. Visitors to the church have burgeoned and currently the number stands at two and half million annually. With the recent introduction of entry tickets, the financial position has improved vastly, and construction is making rapid progress. The organisers are aiming to complete Antoni Gaudi’s labour of love by 2026, to mark his 100th death anniversary. However, not many are optimistic of meeting this target.

Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is synonymous with Barcelona. And Antoni Gaudi continues to be the most celebrated son of Catalonia.

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