The last couple of days in Barcelona have been amazing and I’m glad I was able to share my favourite parts with you in PART 1 and PART 2 of MY ANTONI GAUDI EXPERIENCE. The only disappointment I’ve had was that I wasn’t able to see Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, but I guess that was mostly my fault. Luckily I was able to find a slot available this afternoon at 2pm, its a tight squeeze because I have to leave the city at 4:00pm. As I’ve learnt from my other experiences with Gaudi’s work I need at least four hours to take it all in. But I’d rather have two hours than none at all.
So today, the 7th of October 2017, I shall have the pleasure of being one of the millions to have visited Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the Gothic-style Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (the Expiatory Church of the Holy Family)
BASILICA OF THE SAGRADA FAMILIA
It’s 12:30pm and I’m sitting in a restaurant along Carrer de Sardenya having lunch as I take in the view of the church. A lovely middle aged couple from the U.S. ask to share my table and we just start chatting like old friends.
“Your visit is at 2:00, right? Well, I think we should let you get going seeing that it’s 1:50.”
Whoa! He’s right. I really do keep losing track of time. I’ve just quickly said my goodbyes, wished them well with the rest of their holiday and I’m running to the east gate that faces Carrer de Marina. Surprisingly the queue is shorter than any of the others I’ve experienced the last couple of days, but who’s complaining? Every minute counts!
My first destination is to collect the audio tape. Aaarggghh!!!! There’s another queue here too! Really? Okay, there’s nothing I can do about this and it does seem like it’s moving quite fast anyway so there’s no need to stress about it. Im sure I’ll have plenty of time to experience the glory of this marvellous church.
It’s been less than five minutes and I’ve managed to collected the audio tape. I guess there really was no need to panic!
As instructed by the audio tape I’ve positioned myself in a spot with the perfect view of the whole building and I’m ready for my lesson to begin.
“In 1883 Gaudí was put in charge of the construction of La Sagrada Família, an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family, after its first architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano resigned due to disagreements with the promotors. Gaudí’s style is completely unique and with that in mind its not shocking that he completely changed the initial design and imbued it with his own distinctive style.”
Standing under the shadow of this breathtaking structure I thank God he did. And it baffles my mind how astounding it is, although it’s still unfinished. His new plan was much more ambitious, involving the construction of a church with 5 naves, a transept, an apse, an exterior ambulatory, 3 facades and 18 towers. Although he begun work on it in 1883 he only devoted himself fully to the church in 1915, until his death 43 years later, after he had completed the La Pedrera that I visited on my first day to Barcelona (be sure to check out PART 1 to see my experience at Gaudi’s final residential project).
“Gaudi’s main goal was to create the perfect church and wanted to present the life of Jesus and the history of faith. The towers symbolise Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the twelve disciples and the four evangelists. Whereas the facades portray the three key moments in the life of Jesus: the ornate Birth/nativity to the east (the only one built under Gaudi’s supervision), the simple Passion to the west and the yet to be completed Glory to the south.”
The gate I entered from and the area I’m standing at both face the nativity facade. Gaudi dedicated it to the birth of Jesus and decorated it with scenes reminiscent of elements of life. Its positioning is also intentional as it faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol of the birth of Christ. Although most of the sculptures are religious Gaudi still implemented his famous naturalistic style with turtles/tortoise and chameleons. At the base of each of the three porticos (representing hope, faith and charity) lies a turtle/tortoise (one to represent the land and the other the sea; each are symbols of time as something set in stone and unchangeable). In contrast to the turtles, two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade symbolising change.
I cant help but notice that the sculptures are incredibly life-like, not only due to their features but also their gestures. Listening to the audio tape I find out why.
“This was how he personally designed many of the Sagrada Família’s sculptures. He would thoroughly study the anatomy of the figure, concentrating on gestures. For this purpose, he studied the human skeleton and sometimes used dummies made of wire to test the appropriate posture of the figure he was about to sculpt. In a second step, he photographed his models, using a mirror system that provided multiple perspectives. He then made plaster casts of the figures, both of people and animals (on one occasion he made a donkey stand up so it would not move). He modified the proportions of these casts to obtain the figure’s desired appearance, depending on its place in the church (the higher up, the bigger it would be). Eventually, he sculpted the figures in stone.”
It’s indeed brilliant how his method of creating art was a work of art in itself. It wasn’t just with his sculpting it was also with how he designed his buildings. Remember in PART 1 when I saw he’s model of La Sagrada Familia using his famous hanging-chain funicular model where he hang weights from strings? He was truly a genius.
After walking around the east side of the building and taking in all I can, it’s time to see the interior. To gain access to the inside of the church I have to pass through these beautiful ornate hedge inspired doors. Produced by Esturdo Sotoo the three doors represent faith, hope and charity whereas the cypress, the tree of life, acts as a universal symbol of welcome.
Now let the record show that I’ve seen beautiful interiors in my life but nothing could have ever prepared me for what I am about to see. There’s nothing quite like La Sagrada Familia, nothing, and no image I can show you or words I can tell you can come close to what I’m about to see and feel. On first sight of the colourful lights, unbelievably high ceiling and tall branchlike pillars I feel completely at peace. It’s interesting how what should be an overwhelming space, due to its massive size and numerous tourists, actually engulfs you with a sense of tranquility. And what better feeling to get when one enters a place of worship. At this very moment I understand what it means to be a master architect, as he was referred to. Only a master architect could create more than just a space, but a connection with one’s spirituality.
“Gaudí designed the inside of the cathedral in the shape of a cross and to look like the interior of a forest with inclined columns like branching trees, helicoidal in form, creating a simple but sturdy structure. Gaudí applied all of his previous experimental findings in this project, from works such as the Park Güell and the crypt of the Colònia Güell, creating a church that is at once structurally perfect, harmonious and aesthetically satisfying.
Lighting also served Gaudí for the organisation of space, which required a careful study of the gradient of light intensity to adequately adapt to each specific environment. He achieved this with different elements such as skylights, windows, shutters and blinds.”
When I was in Casa Batllo (PART 2) I thought I had seen the best use of light in architecture but that was nothing compared to what Gaudi was able to achieve in La Sagrada Familia. He stated that,
“Light achieves maximum harmony at an inclination of 45°, since it resides on objects in a way that is neither horizontal nor vertical. This can be considered medium light, and it offers the most perfect vision of objects and their most exquisite nuances. It is the Mediterranean light.”
As I’m walking around in awe of everything I discover a large screen representing the door that will be in the south of the building where the Glory facade, the main entrance, will be. On this screen are the words from The Lord’s Prayer in 50 languages. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Sagrada Família on 7th November 2010, he blessed and consecrated La Sagrada Familia as a Basilica and he not only used the doors as the main entrance but also blessed them.
Another interesting design element I’ve just discovered are the stairs leading to the towers, with its snail-like design. No one knows how to interprate nature into design better than Gaudi. Take a look for yourself:
Seeing that its 3:15pm I won’t be spending any time at the towers. I would rather check out the rest of the building. Design trumps views for me, any day! So down the stairs I go and I pick a spot with the best view of the high altar and decide to take it all in one last time.
“The High Altar is a table-shaped structure that’s a block of porphyry from Iran. Its sides have been smoothed and its top polished. The altar is flanked by two large columns dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. Suspended above it is the expressionist “Crucifixion of Christ” which is a bronze version of a work by Carlos Maní. The sculpture hangs from a replica of the canopy that was made for the Cathedral in Mallorca.”
I think I’m satisfied with the interior, for now (I’ll definitely have to come back one of these fine days). As I walk out through the west entry something tells me to look down and boy am I glad I have. The floors have linear drawings of nature and the gospels which is actually the case for the whole building. Similar to the relief design of what will be the South entrance, the Passion facade’s door has sculpted words adorning its outer panels. These words are all taken from the Bible, representing various languages including Catalan.
Right in front of the doors stands the emotional Flagelación sculpture. Remember that this is the Passion facade that depicts the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This sculpture, by Josep Maria Subirachs , that’s at the base of the church depicts the flogging of Jesus before he was crucified
Now that I’m out and facing the Passion facade, let me do what I’ve mastered today, looking for the perfect spot to take it all in. After doing so, it’s time for me to put on my earphones and listen to what the audiotape has to teach me about this side of Gaudi’s church which is, from first sight, more austere and plain as compared to the ostentatious Nativity Façade.
” In 1911 Gaudi became ill with maltese fever and from his convalescence in puiggerda he imagined the facade of the passion “I am prepared to sacrifice the very construction, to break vaulting and cut columns to give an idea of how cruel sacrifice is”. Its most intriguing design being the ample bare stone that is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton.
Dedicated to the Passion of Christ, the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion, the façade was intended to portray the sins of man. Facing the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ, it’s construction began in 1954, following the drawings and instructions left by Gaudí for future architects and sculptors. The towers were completed in 1976, and in 1987 a team of sculptors, headed by Josep Maria Subirachs, began work sculpting the various scenes and details of the façade. They aimed to give a rigid, angular form to provoke a dramatic effect. Gaudí intended for this façade to strike fear into the onlooker. He wanted to “break” arcs and “cut” columns, and to use the effect of chiaroscuro (dark angular shadows contrasted by harsh rigid light) to further show the severity and brutality of Christ’s sacrifice.”
The sculptures are hands down the stars of the facade. I notice that they lie in three levels, which ascend into what seems like an S form. The lowest level depicting Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion, the middle level depicting the Calvary of Christ, and the third level the Death, Burial and the Resurrection of Christ.
Look at what I just noticed in the second level, roman soldiers with helmets that imitate the chimneys of La Pedrera (see PART 1). They were apparently not in Gaudi’s initial design but are instead a homage to the architect by the sculptor Subirachs.
Thanks to the audio tapes my attention is taken towards the unfinished facade of the church, the south facing Glory facade.
“The largest and most striking of the façades will be the Glory Façade, on which construction began in 2002. It will be the principal façade and will offer access to the central nave. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will. Aware that he would not live long enough to see this façade completed, Gaudí made a model which was demolished in 1936, whose original fragments were the base for the development of the design for the façade.”
My alarm just went off. It must be 3:45pm. I knew I would get distracted and would need to be brought back to reality. Unfortunately I need to leave but I am glad I was able to experience Gaudi’s greatest work. The project is expected to be completed in 2026, to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death, but I promise to be back one more time before then. And when it’s completed I’ll be back to see Gaudi’s vision.
“The completed work will have very high bell towers, the highest one, symbolising Jesus, will be 170m tall.The church will have two sacristies adjacent to the apse, and three large chapels: one for the Assumption in the apse, and the Baptism and Penitence chapels at the west end; also, it will be surrounded by a cloister designed for processions and to isolate the building from the exterior.”
Here’s a computer graphic reconstruction of how it’ll look like:
So there you have it! My three part experience with Gaudi’s work. What’s your take on the famous La Sagrada Familia masterpiece but most importantly what’s your view on the master architect Gaudi?
Here’s a couple of interesting facts about him if you’d like to know a bit more about the genius
He was a bad student:
The Director of Barcelona Architecture School stated about him, “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.” And when receiving his degree, he reportedly told his friend, the sculptor Llorenç Matamala, with his ironical sense of humour, “Llorenç, they’re saying I’m an architect now.”
Dalí loved Gaudí:
It is fitting that one of his biggest fans be the master of surrealist mind-bending artist, Salvador Dalí. The two Catalan men definitely did share a unique viewpoint on their craft: they both disobeyed the traditional rules of realism, and they both seemed to be exceedingly wary of the straight line. It was Dalí that said, ‘Those who have not tasted his superbly creative bad taste are traitors.’
Picasso hated Gaudí:
Unlike Dalí, Picasso was a little less enthusiastic about the Surrealist architect’s work. So unenthused was he, he bade both Gaudí and the Sagrada Família to hell.
He was a strict vegetarian:
He was plagued by poor health for most of his life, which led to adopting vegetarianism. He refused any medical help for his ailment, subsisting on lettuce leaves sprinkled with olive oil and some nuts. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the healthiest way to approach the diet, and it occasionally led to more serious illnesses.
He founded a wrought iron manufacturing company:
Together with Joan Santaló, son of his friend the physician Pere Santaló, he unsuccessfully founded a wrought iron manufacturing company in 1904.
He remained a bachelor all his life:
He dedicated most of his waking hours to his craft, leaving not too much time for a partner in crime. That was, of course, after his one (known) love, Josefa Moreu, didn’t reciprocate his feelings.
He was often mistaken for a beggar, which ultimately led to his death:
The young Gaudí was a stylish young man, but he slowly changed as the years passed. A series of hardships – from deaths of loved ones to economic hard times to work troubles – eventually made the one-time man-about-town into a frugal homebody who neglected his wardrobe. He was struck by a tram on one of his daily walks and didn’t receive much medical attention until the next day when the chaplain of the Sagrada Família identified him as the famous architect he was. By that time, his injuries had progressed past salvage, and he ultimately passed away three days later. He had fractured three ribs, and the brain, the heart and stomach were affected.
He was very religious, and was considered for sainthood:
Gaudí’s Roman catholic faith intensified during his life and religious images appear in many of his works. This earned him the nickname “God’s Architect” so it seemed only fitting that Gaudí should be honored with the final step in a life lived religiously: sainthood. In 1992, the Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí put in place a motion to begin the process of sainthood by beatification of Gaudí.
So again I ask, what’s your take on “God’s Architect”? Do you completely respect him and his work as I do? Do tell me in the COMMENT section below. If you enjoyed my Gaudi experience and wouldn’t like to miss out on any more of my DESIGN TRAVELS, be sure to SUBSCRIBE BELOW.
Till my next adventure don’t forget to Be inspired….Be you!