A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Gaudi’s Masterpiece

Sagrada Familia’s Passion facade

A few years ago when we lived in Luxembourg, our family took a tour of Spain by car. While we didn’t go to Madrid, but we did visit all the other major cities including Barcelona.  I wanted to see the works of architect, Antoni Gaudi, specifically his La Pedrera apartment house and his church, La Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family).  We arrived in Barcelona late in the afternoon, tired from a long drive and facing the challenging task of finding a place to stay for the night.  Now, I have driven in most of the major cities of Europe.  At one time or another, I have taken on the boulevards of Paris, the roundabouts of London, the circuitous narrow streets of Munich and the one-car wide goat paths of Tuscany.  I felt that I could handle anything the continent had to offer.

The altar viewed from the nave

That was before I came to Barcelona.  It wasn’t the fact that the roads were in any worse shape than anywhere else in Europe, in fact, they were in pretty good repair, no doubt due to efforts made to upgrade facilities prior to the Olympics held in Barcelona a year before our visit.  What got me frazzled was the overwhelming number of motorcycles and scooters that share the road with the millions of cars, trucks and other vehicles which seemingly abide by no rules of the road, whatsoever.  They zip in and out of traffic, drive between lanes and consider traffic lights and stop signs as mere suggestions.  These two-wheel drivers are fearless.   They only know how to ride fast and stop only when absolutely necessary.  So stressed did I become, that I asked my wife and navigator to find me the quickest route out-of-town.

Columns shaped like trees support the ceiling

My appreciation for Gaudi’s landmark would have to wait.  So, we left Barcelona, and although we hoped we would return soon, it wasn’t till just a couple of weeks ago that we finally made it back to this amazing city.  It was the jumping off point for a Mediterranean cruise we were taking.  We flew into Barcelona and had two days to explore the Catalonian capital.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s much easier to navigate the still-frantic streets of Barcelona via the relative safely of a double-decker tourist bus.  The city’s two-line bus route takes you close to every major attraction including both Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia is the Roman Catholic basilica begun in 1882 and is still under construction.  Completion is not expected until 2026.  The halfway mark was reached in 2010.  A Catalonia publisher first conceived it and after he and the original architect could not agree on a design, Antoni Gaudi took over and would devote the next 40 years to the church’s construction.

The interior of the Nativity facade

The design combines Gothic with curvilinear art nouveau forms.  The basilica, when completed will comprise 18 towers, the tallest reaching almost 600 ft.  The towers representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ.  Eight spires have been built to date, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity facade and four apostles at the Passion facade.  The completion of the spires will make Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world.

Spiral staircase in the Narthex

The Church will have three grand facades: the Nativity facade to the East, the Passion facade to the West, and the Glory facade to the South (yet to be completed). The Nativity Facade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 and bears the most direct Gaudi influence. The Passion facade is especially striking for its spare, gaunt, tormented characters, including emaciated figures of Christ being scourged at the pillar; and Christ on the Cross. These controversial designs are the work of Josep Maria Subirachs. The Glory facade, on which construction began in 2002, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will represent one’s ascension to God. It will also depict various scenes such as Hell, Purgatory, and will include elements such as the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Heavenly Virtues.

Whimsical towers of the Passion facade take shape

The church plan is that of a Latin cross with five aisles. The central nave vaults reach forty-five meters while the side nave vaults reach thirty meters. The transept has three aisles. The columns are on a 7.5-meter grid.  However, the columns of the apse, resting on the foundation, do not adhere to the grid, requiring a section of columns of the ambulatory to transition to the grid thus creating a horseshoe pattern to the layout of those columns. The crossing rests on the four central columns of porphyry supporting a great hyperboloid surrounded by two rings of twelve hyperboloids (currently under construction). The central vault reaches 200 ft.  The apse is capped by a hyperboloid vault reaching 250 feet.  Gaudi intended that a visitor standing at the main entrance be able to see the vaults of the nave, crossing, and apse, thus the graduated increase in vault loftiness.

Carved wooden door of Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is an awe-inspiring and amazing structure.  In a very significant way, it affirms man’s faith and devotion to a higher being.  It is also a testament to man’s creativity and his tenacity in seeing a project of this scale through to the end.  Gaudi knew that he would never live to see his basilica completed.  In fact, his life was cut short tragically when he was killed in a tram accident in 1926.  The completion of the basilica is planned to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Incidentally, not only does the Sagrada Familia function as a cathedral, but it also holds the tomb of the Antoni Gaudi as well as a museum underground dedicated to informing the public of the construction process of the cathedral from day one.

Watch for my next posting.  In a few weeks I hope to post some images from Gaudi’s other masterpiece in Bacelona – La Pedrera.

June 6, 2012 Posted by | Architecture, Europe, Photography, Sagrada Familia, Spain, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment