Wednesday, December 21, 2011

La Sagrada Familia - Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family

A couple of days ago we hopped from one metro to another to find all the recommended buildings to go see here in Barcelona to take pictures, and since we're not big on museums, to decide which ones we'll explore inside. When we got off the metro at La Sagrada Familia I looked left as we came up the stairs and saw shops, and then looked right only to have my breath taken away. This time not from cold, but rather awe at the beauty and the magnificence of the church standing next to me - La Sagrada Familia. We took a couple of pictures but then decided it is too late to go inside and will do so another day.

Today was that day, and the reaction as I came up the stairs was exactly the same. All churches in Europe are awe-inspiring, but this one is different. From the outside the only thing that makes it look like a typical church is it's size. Other than that the architecture is different. It almost looks rough and crude and un-rounded, and if I look at it from where I'm sitting right now (a coffee shop) I can imagine a whole bunch of serious soldiers in their medieval armour, old and weather beaten, standing in front of the gates and intimidating any passers by. There is however parts of the building that are newer, and this brings a softness to the old rough parts, which is what makes this church so intriguing.

Again, some background and history before I continue. A committee was formed in the early 1800s who decided to build this church. It is called an expiatory church, meaning the church is built purely on donations from the public. Today this money comes from people and probably companies or richer families donating money, as well as the 2.5 million people that visit a year. The original architect that designed and started building the church lasted about 30 years, and after a disagreement with the committee he was replaced by Gaudi. Initially Gaudi stuck to the original design, but after a large donation he improved and added to it. Gaudi was run over by a tram 1926, and only lived to see one tower (out of 20) being erected. This church is still not completed today and there are cranes and builders working as I type. The plan is that the church will be completed in the first quarter of the 21st century. This is why the outside buildings have mostly old sections to it, weather beaten and aged, but new sections as well.

Back to our experience of the church - we went inside and once you're inside the picture is completely different. Every stone looks new, smooth, un-stained, untouched. In part the size of the church inside and the windows that have stained glass in reminds you that the church is old and has come from almost two centuries ago. But in another part the structures are modern and reminds me of some of the modern designed apartments you see in some of the home make-over shows on the Discovery channel. The architecture and design and detail is of such a nature that you can choose a starting point, slowly look at the church by turning a full circle, then walk 10 steps further, slowly look at all angles of the church again by turning a full circle, and see new angles, new shapes, new patterns and designs, and you could do this all the way around the church till you're back where you started, and you'll see new things all the way around. It is probably a photographer heaven if they are into architecture in that they could probably visit the church every day for at least a year and get different shots of different designs every day.

It's hard to describe all the shapes and designs, so google pictures (or wait for us to return and we'll post them), but I'll try to explain by what I read from how Gaudi designed the church. Gaudi was very sickly as a child so he spent a lot of his time indoors studying nature on the wine farm he grew up in. His designs are inspired by taking on shapes and forms created by nature. At the entrances, a lot of the detail looks like water falling from leaves and trees on a rainy day. He also used flowers such as lavender and wheat to build the spear like shapes on top of the pinnacles. There are many grape like shapes on pinnacles as well, and he uses animals like chameleons, crocodiles, tortoises and more in the graphic detail. The one entrance is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, with lots of detail in people and animals celebrating his birth.

There is also a lot of hard lines, mostly triangular or diamond shaped, mimicking the way crystallization occurs and plants with the straighter pointier type leaves grow, or also similar to stars. The staircases and a lot of the interior and exterior design mimick that of shells or water creating spirals when churning in a whirlpool or waterfall. We took the lift to one of the top towers, and then walked the stairs down (our knees are recovering after rubbing in something similar to deep heat), and if you look down the centre of the stairs it spirals all the way down to the bottom. The pillars inside the church are built according to 5 standard types of designs, with from 5 to 12 corners and measuring 1.05 to 2.4 meter in diameter. When standing from an angle where you can see most of the pillars, it gives the illusion of trees in a forest.

What makes Gaudi even more of a genius, is that instead of the pillars being built from the bottom up, he has built them from the top down. To explain, one of the models they show in the museum is a structure whereby pieces of string are fastened to a basic structure and then intertwined with each other. Little bags are then filled with a lead weight and hung from the strings to eventually drape themselves into a pillar format. The inside of the church is built based on this concept. Google it for the exact architectural details, my explanation is a very basic explanation of it.

He also built the roof and windows in such a way that they create a lot of sunlight in the church. In the balconies of the church there is enough benches to fit 1,000 choir singers and the church roof and window design also resonates the sound of their voices perfectly through the church.

There is also a school built in one of the corners of the church' grounds utilized by children of builders of the church as well as the children of the popes and ministers that are part of the church. This school was built by Gaudi in the 1800s, but during the Spanish civil war this school and Gaudi's workshop was burnt down together with all the drawings for the building design. They managed to restore a couple of the clay models that Gaudi made and rebuild them to keep the church as close to his design as possible.

We close off our visit to the church by waiting for the sun to set and the spotlights onto the towers to come on to get a couple of night photos from the outside of the church. I think another thing that makes Spain a lot more special than Italy is that in Italy you expect to find and visit the Colloseum, Vatican city etc. Spain has all these hidden treasures that we weren't aware of and finding them is a surprise every time. La Sagrada Familia was a wonderful way to end our last day in Barcelona, filling me with another funny/spiritual/inspired feeling but this time in the pit of my stomach, and keeping me wondering whether it is the will of God or a Higher Power that has kept the building of this church going, or if it is the will power and faith of humans that kept it going, and if it even really makes a difference which one it is.

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