It’s our final day here in Barcelona and we have saved the best ’til last; architecturally speaking that is. Today we are heading to The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s as-yet still unfinished magnum opus, and living legacy.I’ve been to Barcelona before and spent several hours here, and yet, it still makes my eyes widen as I exit the metro, looking up for the first time at what more closely resembles a fairy-tale castle than a church. It would not seem out of place at all for Rapunzel to be in one of it’s many towers, trailing her long golden hair down towards the awed public beneath.
The church, still uncompleted, has two façades and a third planned. We enter on the nativity side-dedicated to Jesus’ birth- where three wise men carved perfectly out of stone bear gifts amid trees and angels. The doors are laced with green leaves, scarab beetles and ladybirds, all in brilliant, glossy, brightly coloured finishes.
Gaudí had felt that attending church should not be such a reverent affair, but rather, a joyful, welcoming experience which would bring you closer to God. The architectural innards of this sanctuary certainly reflect this sentiment. You walk in and you aren’t inside a dark, sombre building, but an airy enchanted forest. Pillars of stone shoot up from the ground, all different sizes and materials, forking off into branches above. They are Gaudí’s trademark catenary arches, and meet a ceiling of tangerine coloured starbursts which are the leaves of this luscious canopy.
The wavy, undulating surfaces I recognise from La Pedrera, form a balcony and emulate scallop shells, which are themselves dotted around the church. Gaudí’s relationship and understanding of the fundamental beauty of the organic world around us, and natural geometrical forms, is truly unrivalled. This is not merely a place of worship, but the Garden of Eden itself, where one cannot help but feel a close bond with creation and our creator.
Above us, a golden shimmering hyperboloid vault opens into a skylight where you can see out into the heavens above.
There are a plethora of stained glass windows decked out in vivid colours, much brighter than their traditional muted counterparts I have seen in other churches. As you turn to observe the entire scope of the nave, the colours change from a sea of heated reds and oranges, to cool blues and greens; as if moving through the seasons.
The dappled light playing across the arches in bright rainbows, make you feel as if you have stepped into a wooded clearing on a midsummer’s afternoon.
I am spell bound. I imagine this masterpiece finally completed, the balcony section filled with it’s hundreds of intended singers, their voices reverberating angelically.
We exit through the Passion Façade, where angular modern cubist faces depict Jesus’ death. The work of Josep Maria Subirachs, this is in stark contrast to Gaudí’s own style and demonstrates the brutality of the crucifixion of Christ.
To the right of this, will be the Glory Façade, which is is currently under construction-but still years away from conclusion.
It’s mind-boggling that the church has been in development for 134 years-it’s progress halted by the Spanish Civil War, but never discarded by it’s many dutiful patrons and followers.
The ground breaking for this project took place in 1883, with Gaudí coming on board to lead the project in 1884. When he undertook this, he knew for sure he would never live to see it’s completion. A somewhat tortured genius-the months before his death found him living within the grounds of his workshop-a meagre bed surrounded by plaster moulds, tools and sketches-his life dedicated to God and to the church.
Gaudí was Barcelona’s visionary and paragon. The museum below the church has pictures of the procession for his funeral in 1926-an entire city in mourning, their ‘Evita’ gone. His final resting place is the crypt below us, a solitary figure buried in the foundations of his own masterpiece; as it continues to grow around him. There’s something rather poetic in that.
The projected finish date is now 2026-which will mark a full centenary since Gaudí’s death. A fitting tribute.
Once we have seen all we can, we leave the mystical basilicas behind us, and walk in the cool sunshine of Passeig de Sant Joan, past Plaça de Tetuan with it’s now-silent fountain, and underneath the Arc de Triomf.
We head right into the heart of El Born, part of the old city with winding, narrow cobbled streets. High sided buildings weave a grid of passageways, and above me people hang their washing to dry from Juliet balconies.
We stop at a quaint little place on one of the tiny streets to re-fuel. The ‘Menu Del Dia’ serves us up salad, freshly seared tuna, and baked cinnamon apples; and we toast to our trip over cervezas and vino.
It’s bitter-sweet as the afternoon wears on, fast-approaching our time to leave. We doze on the bus ride to the airport where we bid our farewells to our beautiful Madre who is flying back to her home on the coast. It’s always sad to say goodbye to family, and I certainly don’t get to see as much as I would like of this wonderful woman.
Consoled by the baby-bro we head to our own terminal and the VIP lounge where I help myself to a free endless wine supply (see previous posts for mounting evidence of my ever developing alcoholic tendencies…). We board the flight back to Liverpool, where the captain announces that the weather is, you guessed it! Cold and rainy! And I’m seriously regretting even entertaining heading back to Blighty.
I eventually crawl, shivering, into bed a good few hours later and i’m sad to be back as it’s been an amazing weekend in Barcelona. I already miss the dazzling colours, tastes and smells, and can’t wait for my next adventure, whenever and wherever that may be.