If you’re a fan of the late Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, you have surely read about his most famous work – The Basílica de la Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família is Gaudi’s most renowned work, even though fascinatingly enough, it is still incomplete. In the 138 years of its ongoing construction, the church has overcome many milestones and is praised for its dedication to Gaudí’s vision. From its spires to façades and even the interiors, the church’s construction has been planned in phases and is expected to be ready by the year 2026, at which point it will reach the height of 170 m. The height of the structure was purposefully designed to be lower than Barcelona’s highest point – Montjuïc hill (185 m) as Antoni believed that no man-made structure should ever be higher than the work of God.
Having said that, here are a few interesting facts about the famed Sagrada Família that even the biggest Gaudí admirer may not be aware of:
1. Dedication to the Saints
The stained-glass windows of the basilica are a prominent feature of Sagrada Família. When the sunlight passes through the translucent mosaic glass of the windows, the interior of the church looks magical. The windows are not just a radiant addition for the sake of aesthetics but indirectly a dedication to saints and shrines from all around the world. The glazier of the windows, Joan Vila-Grau added the names of various saints and sanctuaries on them, which can only be noticed on close inspection.
2. Initials of Gaudí
It is well known that the Sagrada Família has three major facades, namely, The Nativity Façade, The Passion Façade, and The Glory Façade. As a subtle tribute to the master architect of the church, when the grand doors of the Glory façade were installed, the handles were shaped in the initials of Antoni Gaudí – A and G.
3. Art imitating Life
It may sound bizarre to us today, but about a century ago, it was common for sculptors to create molds out of animals and plants for art. Gaudi, being the extravagant artist that he is, took this to the next level by learning how to make molds of live human beings! So yes, if you’re wondering, the sculptures on the Nativity façade of the church were not carved out of stone but are plaster molds of real-life people including laborers, tourists, and locals on-site!
4. Life-size Model
It is a marvel how decades after Gaudí’s passing, the designers of the Sagrada Família have managed to replicate his distinctive style and detailed out the structure just as Gaudi’s vision. The secret behind this precision is that before Gaudi left, he created a model of the church in a scale of 1:10 with every single detail so that even after he is gone, the legacy of his work can carry on without difficulty. The model is so huge that anybody could easily walk through it.
While the Sagrada Família is applauded for its technological advancement in the field of construction, there is one thing that is still done the old fashioned way – handcrafting the stone blocks. Stonemasons that work on the façade use traditional hand tools even today and give the stones a unique surface finish so that no two blocks are the same. This ensures that the blocks seamlessly fit in with those from a century ago. The masons believe that working manually allows them to communicate with the stone in ways that a machine wouldn’t allow.
6. Recycled Stone
Speaking of stone, you will find it impressive that the Sagrada Família is built with reused stone from other structures in Barcelona. Most eminent structures in Barcelona are built from stone that is procured from Montjuïc hill. For over 2000 years, the country has been exploiting the hill for its stone which caused a scarcity in 1954. Therefore, once the Sagrada Família had used up all the stones in their stock, they began reusing stones from buildings that were being torn down or renovated. This also makes Sagrada Família, the last structure in Barcelona to be built with Montjuïc stone.
7. Symbolic Labyrinths
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Sagrada Família, you may have noticed a maze or labyrinth at the entrance of the Passion façade. It is no secret that the design of the church is an amalgamation of symbolism, iconography, and spirituality. Keeping that in mind, the Spanish sculptor Subiarchs added the labyrinth to the entrance as a representation of the ‘bloody path that Jesus had to take from his condemnation to his crucifixion’.
8. Embodying Nature
Gaudi’s work has always been influenced by nature and his life’s most celebrated work is no exception. From the symbolism of animals and trees to sacred geometry and curves, the church has many exotic features. But something that stands out is the massive columns on the Passion façade, which resemble a sequoia tree – broad from the base with ribs on their trunks.
9. Magic of 7.5
An unusual aspect of the church’s design is in the repetition of the number 7.5. When Gaudi overtook the design of the church from its original architect Francisco Lozano, one of the changes he made was in the size of the church which mysteriously increased in the multiples of 7.5 m from all directions. There is no evidence as to why the module of 7.5 m was chosen by Gaudi but over the years people have made their theories. While some say it was a calculative decision, others say that 7 represents good and 8 represents evil in some religions and therefore Gaudi used 7.5 to neutralize the good and the evil.
10. Everything is Predetermined
Maybe it was intentional, or maybe it was fate, but the Sagrada Família is interestingly placed in the centre of Barcelona, so it is at equal distances from both the sea and the mountains!