We had originally planned to visit Sagrada Familia on Saturday morning. We had purchsed tickets for both the church and a visit to the Nativity tower ahead of time (an absolute MUST if you want to see the inside of the church, and you will after you see the pictures), but with all of our travel issues, it didn't happen. Thankfully, I was able to cancel and get a refund for our old tickets and purchase new tickets for Monday morning, but because it was late, we weren't able to go up in either of the towers. Regardless, this church is still absolutely stunning, both inside and out, and should be one of the things that everyone sees when they visit Barcelona.
We took the metro to get there, which is easy enough. It even has its own stop, fittingly called Sagrada Familia. As you come up from underground and turn around, the church starts to come into view. It's so detailed and so beautiful, your eyes have a hard time finding a place to rest; for a moment, we both stopped and gasped. It was easily the most beautiful church we have ever seen. We saw the Nativity Facade first, but be sure to walk all the way around it. Every single nook and cranny is filled with something - carvings of saints, prayers etched into the stone, stained glass windows. It's impossible to describe in words, so I will let the pictures do the talking.
The nativity side depicts the birth of Jesus. On the top, between the towers, is the tree of life (which, ironically, looks somewhat like a Christmas tree from street level). It has the well known manger scene, carvings of the three wise men and shepherds who visited, as well as depictions of significant events in the young Jesus' life (fleeing from Bethlehem, the slaughter of the innocents, the presentation of Jesus in the temple). There are birds, and turtles, and leaves, and flowers, and bees, and trees all carved in amongst the religious carvings, giving this facade a feeling a bit like the Garden of Eden - completely full of lie. Every single carving, no matter how big or small, has a significance. Constructed from 1894 to 1930, this was the only facade Gaudi saw finished before his death.
We opted for the auto guided tour so we each had a headset that allowed us to listen to explanations of what we were looking at. You can also choose a regular guided tour in a number of languages, but the audio guide allows you to travel at your own pace, to sit and admire what is before you.
From there, we headed inside the church. If the outside was stunning, the inside was simply breathtaking. The first thing that you notice as you walk in is the color. It's everywhere. From the outside, the stain glass windows don't look like anything special, but inside, with the light streaming through them, they are dazzling. The reds, yellows, blues, greens, and every color in between makes this one of the most colorful churches I have ever seen.
The columns are all stone, but vary in their hues due to their construction material, depending on the weight that they needed to bear. But these are not the straight, cylindrical columns seen in many church. No, these have graceful branching and arching at their tops. With the leaf-like carvings on the ceilings, it is easy to feel as if you are sitting in a forest, surrounded by towering trees, sheltering you. We took our time here, taking a seat and just taking it all in. We listened to the audio guide, but also spent some time in silence, just admiring the beauty around us. The pictures don't give this place the justice it deserves, you literally feel bathed in the light and color from the windows.
On the second level, around the entire perimeter of the church, is the choir loft. It was skillfully designed so that the sound would fill the church, but not echo (and judging from the construction with the stone saws going on up there, I have to say they nailed it). I can only imagine what a Christmas eve mass at midnight, lit by the light of the street lamps outside, or an Easter morning mass with the Mediterranean sun streaming in through the colorful windows, would be like to attend. Perhaps one day we will venture back to experience this for ourselves.
We exited on the Passion Facade. In stark contrast to the Nativity Facade, this one is bare. Gaudi wanted it to look as if it were made of bones (and it very much does). While much less ornate than the Nativity Facade, this facade captures the harsh reality and tells the story of Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. Separate scenes depict the various aspects of the story, from his betrayal to his Crucifixion, and finally being laid in the tomb. The doors on this facade of cast bronze with the Passion as told in the Gospels of Matthew and John in raised lettering.
The Glory Facade (when completed will be the largest of the three facade, and the main entrance of the church), was under construction when we were there, and likely will be for many more years. It was started in 2002 and does not have a proposed end date. Construction on Sagrada Famila began in 1882, over 130 years ago. Today, it is still an active construction site. At times, mass is held in the church, but when we were there, it was not. While neither Aaron nor I are big fans of modern art and architecture, this church blew us away. We have seen a number of churches in Europe and this one is probably the most beautiful, most colorful, and most breathtaking one we have ever seen. Both of us were in complete awe the entire time we were touring it. If you are in or near Barcelona, this is the one thing that I would make sure you see while there.
One tip, if you are visiting Barcelona and want to see this amazing church (which you do), make sure you buy tickets ahead of time at their website (or just google Sagrada Familia tickets). Otherwise, you risk either a long wait in line, or not being able to see the inside at all, and if you're going to the trouble of going to see it, you want to see inside it (trust me on this one).
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