BARCELONA, Spain—Amor García has a jewelry store close to the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. She’s lived in this tourist district for more than 30 years and has always seen the famous Catholic church under construction, as have all of Barcelona’s residents.
Now she is glad the construction of “this impressive building is coming to an end.”
After 144 years as a work in progress, it will finally be a reality in 2026. That’s the centenary of the death of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed the basilica, one of the longest construction projects in the world.
Construction began in 1882 and has continued even through some serious challenges, beginning with the death of Gaudí in 1926.
Then, during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), most of Gaudí’s documents and models were burned. Some of them were reconstructed, but there are others still being repaired. In addition, construction depends greatly on donations from anonymous people around the world, as well as tourists who buy tickets to see Gaudí’s masterpiece.
Today, 70 percent of the place of worship is complete, and it is in its final stage of construction. When finished, it will be the tallest religious building in Europe (566 feet). In addition, it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005.
With 4.5 million visitors in 2017, the Sagrada Familia is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in Spain.
But what makes the basilica special?
According to Jordí Faulí, the site’s architect director, the Sagrada Familia is inspired not only by faith but also by nature. With a type of stone column never before used, “Gaudí created a forest inside the building,” Faulí said.
“He sought perfection and he found it in the geometric forms of nature,” Faulí added.
Apart from the feeling of being in a forest when you enter, there are other elements coming from nature in Gaudí’s masterpiece. Some examples are stairs in the shape of a conch shell and the countless plants and animals depicted in sculptures.
The main characteristics of Gaudí’s style are the sense of verticality and elevation you have when visiting the basilica, and the balanced structures that stand on their own without the need for support such as buttresses. In addition, it’s a building that features plenty of light, thanks to stained glass windows and skylights. All this creates harmony, geometry, clarity, and color, “following Gaudí’s rules to the letter,” Faulí said.
Faulí explained that the six central towers—out of the 18 the building will have–are being built now. The center tower, devoted to Jesus Christ, will be the tallest, measuring 172.5 meters (565 feet). The others honor the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and the Virgin Mary.
The construction of the towers, like the rest of the project, requires “very meticulous and precise work,” he said. That is why the different levels of the main towers are assembled outside of Barcelona and then brought to the city. The process helps build the basilica in a faster and safer way.
“In 2026, the architectural part will be finished,” Faulí said. After that, it will be necessary to tackle the artistic and sculptural part. “Cathedrals never end, there are always things to do,” he said.
Main Tourist Attraction
The Sagrada Familia is one of Spain’s biggest tourist sites and, at times, has generated criticism and concern among residents about the negative effects of mass tourism. However, according to García, who is also president of the Eix Comercial Sagrada Familia shopkeepers association, “coexistence between tourists and residents has recently improved.”
Today, lines of tourists no longer block the sidewalks, but are found inside the church’s precinct. In addition, tourist buses aren’t stopping in front of the building, but on the nearby Diagonal Avenue.
Tourists are crucial for many shops’ revenues.
“Whether there are works or when it is completed, we will always have visitors,” García said. She believes, when finished, the Sagrada Familia could attract even more people.
However, things have changed since the Barcelona terror attack on Aug. 17, 2017. According to court testimony given by those suspected of carrying out the attack, the Sagrada Familia was an intended jihadist target.
The terror cell that killed 15 people that day was planning attacks on a much larger scale, and that included the iconic church. Now, the grounds of the basilica include scanners and metal-detector arches, and more security agents have been deployed.