Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia

Basilica De La Sagrada Familia (Nativity Facade)
For me the most important attraction in my entire European vacation was La Sagrada Familia. I was just awed by Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece and the history behind it.

The most important tip I can give to anyone planning to go to Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) is to buy your tickets online and to get an audio guide or even better a guided tour which I plan to do when I go back to Barcelona. As concise as the audio guide was I felt it was lacking in information that only a seasoned guide can give. Also don’t forget to print your tickets which most of us forgot thankfully Sha had the foresight to print everyone’s tickets. There was a long, long line of people who were just buying their tickets on site.

IMG_4425 Audio Guide, Sagrada Familia

La  modeling the audio guide

Construction commenced in 1882 to a bland and uninspired neo-gothic design by Francesco del Villar, who left the project a year later with only the lower part of the crypt built. The young Antonio Gaudi was called in as replacement architect in 1883 and immediately began his radical transformation of the design, discarding Villar’s dull plans and completing the crypt and apse walls in his own version of gothic, though this was still conservative compared with what was to follow.

Gaudi always knew the project was too vast to be completed in his lifetime and was expecting other generations to finish what he had begun. Very little of the overall church then existed, he left us only the crypt, apse walls and one of the three facades, but plans and models indicated what was to come next, and also how much revision his original, more conservative concepts had undergone. The overall plan of the building follows the traditional cathedral layout with nave, transepts and apse. However Gaudi was adding much more, with protruding chapels, an encircling cloister and no less than 18 steeples, all symbolic with 12 for the Apostles, four on each facade, one over the apse for Mary, and four representing the Gospel Writers surrounding thetallest and largest of all over the crossing represening Christ. The three facades were to be adorned with sculpure on different themes, the Birth of Christ (Nativity Facade, east/’south’ transept), the Passion of Christ (Passion Facade, west/’north’ transept) and the Last Judgement (Glory Facade, main south/’west’ facade of nave).   source

This was the second façade to be built following Gaudí’s original project. The architect, who only left the decorative part annotated, foresaw that future generations would make interventions on it according to the aesthetic tastes of the moment. Such is the case of the sculptural decoration by Josep Maria Subirachs and the stained glass by Joan Vila-Grau.

The Passion façade is so called because it represents the Passion of Jesus, in other words, the pain, the sacrifice and the death, as staged along the twelve stations of the cross, expressed in highly dramatic and emotionally intense sculpture groups. source
Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade
Passion facade

Josep Maria Subirachs, Passion Facade

Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-001
Works of Subirachs
Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-002


The bronze doors made by Subirachs contained text from the gospels of Matthew and John recounting the last days of the life of Jesus.
Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-003

Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-004

Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-005

Sagrada Familia - Passion Facade-006

These scale models of the church which is scheduled to be completed in 2026, a hundred years after the death of Gaudi, show the different facades including what the Glory facade will look like when completed. Even with today’s modern equipment the minute details Gaudi planned will still a long time to construct.

Finished model of Sagrada Familia Finished model of Sagrada Familia-001

Glory facade (left)

Finished model of Sagrada Familia-002 Finished model of Sagrada Familia-003

This is the uncompleted Glory Facade.
Sagrada Familia - Glory Facade (unfinished)

This door was just put in for the  visit of Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010 when La Sagrada Familia was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica.

This is the main façade which will be the entrance to the church when it is finished. As it is so important, Gaudí included in the project the construction of a great exterior flight of steps that provided access to the church with a solemnity befitting the place.

The Glory façade was given that name because it represents the situation of man within the general order of creation: his origins, his problems, the roads he must take and his purpose. Like the other façades, it will have three entrances (a main door dedicated to charity and two side doors dedicated to hope and faith), and a porch with seven columns that will symbolise the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and present the virtues opposed to the sins.

The façade will have various sculpted elements and on the upper part, above the roof of the narthex, stretching along the four bell towers there will be stone clouds bearing the Credo written in large letters. The bell towers will be consecrated to the apostles St Andrew, St Peter, St Paul and St James the Great, ordered from left to right.

The Glory façade faces south so that the sun beats down on it for most of the day, in harmony with its significance: the exaltation of its strong life and joyous spirit. Gaudí himself said: “Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit”. For technical reasons it is the last of the three façades to be built and its architectural and decorative design follow Gaudí’s original idea. source
Sagrada Familia - Glory Facade (unfinished)-001
Glory facade

According to our tour guide Marta this building right in front of the Glory facade will have to be destroyed when the time comes since the facade’s walkway will extend up to there.
Sagrada Familia - Glory Facade (unfinished)-002


This side entrance to the church was the first to be built and the only one Gaudí completed in his lifetime. The architect represented Jesus more human part and celebrated his birth by depicting an exultant nature on a Gothic base. The Nativity façade faces east, which is where the sun rises every day, so that it symbolically expresses the birth of life.

The Nativity façade is so called because it presents the birth, childhood and young manhood of Jesus. The entrance to the church from this façade is through a central door and two side doors dedicated to the three theological virtues: hope, charity and faith, the names given to each of the three doors. These three virtues are vital in the life of Jesus, in analogy to St Joseph, Our Lady and Jesus. At the top rise four bell towers, dedicated to the apostles St Barnabas, St Jude, St Simon and St Matthew, from left to right. source
Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade
Nativity facade

Shepherds & Angels, Sagrada Familia
Shepherds & Angels

The details are just intense.
Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade-001

Angel Choir, Sagrada Familia
Angelic Choir

Nativity Group, Sagrada Familia
Nativity Group

Presentation, Sagrada Familia

There were also lots of astonishing architectural details inside the church.
Spiral Staircase, Sagrada Familia
Spiral Staircase

Aisle Windows, Sagrada Familia
Aisle Windows

Red Window, Sagrada Familia
Red Window

Since Sagrada Familia is an expiatory church it relies only on donations for it to be built. I was happy to find this from the Filipino community.
donations from the Filipino community

ground plans & columns
ground plans & columns

Can you believe the details on the ceiling?
Aisle Vaults, Sagrada Familia
Aisle Vaults

forest of columns

Vaults & Choir Galleries, Sagrada Familia

The galleries which wrapped around the church could hold 1,000 choir singers.
Vaults & Choir Galleries, Sagrada Familia-001
Vaults & Choir Galleries

Apse & Ambulatory

The highlight of the altar is this suspended crucifix.
Altar with suspended crucifix
Altar with suspended crucifix

Cloister of Our Lady Rosary, Sagrada Familia
Cloister of Our Lady Rosary

Museum, Sagrada Familia

There were several pictures in the museum showing the early stages of construction.
Museum, Sagrada Familia-001

Museum, Sagrada Familia-002

This is a picture of what the Glory facade will look like when completed.
picture of the what the finished Glory facade will look like

Museum, Sagrada Familia-004

The church was packed to capacity when Pope Bendict XVI consecrated Sagrada Familia.
Museum, Sagrada Familia-005

The pope shown in this picture entering through the bronze doors of the Glory facade.
Museum, Sagrada Familia-008

Choir singers filled the galleries that Gaudi designed.
Museum, Sagrada Familia-006

Museum, Sagrada Familia-007

Museum, Sagrada Familia-009
scale model of a nave

Museum, Sagrada Familia-010

We finished the audio guide tour in a little over an hour. I wanted to stay longer and explore more parts of the church but the group had other plans. I wasn’t able to go to the crypt either. The visit to La Sagrada Familia was definitely the highlight of my trip to Spain.

We have plans to return to Barcelona in 2026 to see the completed La Sagrada Familia. But I want to go back sooner than that to see all the places I missed and maybe go to other parts of Spain too.

Read more about La Sagrada Familia here.

3 thoughts on “Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia

  1. One of my favorite places to visit in the world! I have visited the Sagrada Familia every single time I’ve been to Barcelona. Aside from being awesome in and of itself, one of the things I love about it is seeing it grow and change ever time I visit! The first time I saw it it didn’t even have a roof really! It really holds a special place in my heart…


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