Some bookish folks confess they’ve by no means learn the Catcher within the Rye; some film buffs quietly admit they’ve by no means seen The Godfather. I’m the Hispanophile and Barcelona fan who had by no means visited the Sagrada Familia.
The basilica of the Holy Household (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, to offer it its full identify) is the venture to which Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) devoted the final 15 years of his life. To say it’s a well-liked spot in Barcelona could be an understatement: that is the second most-visited church in Christendom after St Peter’s in Rome and, along with the Prado museum in Madrid and the Alhambra in Granada, a “sight” that habitually tops the bucket lists of vacationers in Spain.
But I had been avoiding all of it my life. Why? Partly as a result of I used to be reluctant to hitch the vacationer throng, frightened of being decreased to the extent of a humble sightseer relatively than the connoisseur of Spanish tradition that I imagined myself to be.
And partly as a result of, regardless of my by no means having set eyes on it, I had an Opinion in regards to the constructing. Amongst my peer group it was tacitly assumed that with the Sagrada Familia one way or the other Gaudí crossed a purple line. If the remainder of the stops on the Barcelona Gaudí tour—Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, the Park Güell, et al—have been all straight-up masterpieces, the “expiatory temple” was not. Quite the opposite: it was wildly OTT, borderline vulgar, a behemoth of Catholic kitsch, and one didn’t must see it to know that. Because the years glided by it was simpler to proceed in my ignorance than to set about remedying the scenario.
Till a short while in the past, when I discovered myself in Barcelona with a morning to spare and, in an entry of open-mindedness, thought: why not now? I booked myself a spot on the primary English-language tour of the day. The associated fee: a not cheap €33.80 ($38).
In tradition as in politics, it may be sobering to appreciate your Opinion is shared by solely a small minority of the inhabitants. On Tripadvisor, no fewer than 129,293 customers give the Sagrada Familia a five-star ranking. Simply 1,132 give it one out of 5, and of those adverse views the overwhelming majority are complaints about poor customer support or crowding on the web site. Not more than a handful convey aesthetic standards to bear. Their feedback embody: “pastiche!,” “the best expression of unhealthy style,” “a cheesy imaginative and prescient of paradise,” “it tries to mimic the good Gothic cathedrals however solely manages a ridiculous imitation”—and in addition this devastating seven-word critique: “I favor the Disney fort in Paris.”
At 9.45 a.m on an unseasonably chilly and drizzly day, the sq. in entrance of the church is already seething with folks. With quarter-hour to spare, I amuse myself watching the ranks of selfie-takers as they pose in entrance of the church, their smiles turning on and off with light-bulb rapidity. (“Right here’s me exterior the palace of me,” as rap poet Kae Tempest places it in Europe is Misplaced). Among the many crowds milling across the entrance there’s pleasure: for a lot of of those folks this can be a excessive level of the holiday. “Yay guys! Are y’all prepared?” calls one man, to whoops of enjoyment from his household.
My little group assembles and we establish ourselves—there are folks right here from Germany and Austria, Canada, Israel, and america. Tour information Alessia begins her spiel, reminding us that the basilica’s “Nativity” façade and the spire of Saint Barnabas have been virtually the one components of the constructing Gaudí noticed in his lifetime. It will be left to different fingers to complete what he began—however there was an issue. The architect had been lifeless for 10 years when, in 1936, anarchist militia set fireplace to the crypt the place his fashions and sketches have been saved. In order that a lot of what we’re is the results of pure conjecture—and this seems to be a significant component within the controversy surrounding the constructing.
Even so, I’ve to confess the sheer scale of the development is astonishing. Simply as within the Gothic cathedrals from which it attracts its inspiration, the façade attracts your eyes upwards from the bottom, the place sculpted chickens peck across the columns, and into the coruscations of swirling stonework filled with hallucinatory element, the stone itself seeming to drip and sag. However already I’m selecting up jarring notes. The figures of angels added by Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo in 1987 appear to me tacky and saccharine, and the multicolored baubles crowning the nave, garish in opposition to the graceful grey granite of the newly accomplished roof.
Lately work on the Sagrada Familia has gathered pace. The Tower of Mary, ultimately to be the second tallest of 18 teetering parabolic spires, reached its closing peak of 128m in December 2021. If constructing work finishes as deliberate in 2026, says Alessia, it will neatly coincide with the a centesimal anniversary of Gaudí’s demise.
Now she leads us inside. The crowds filling the basilica are quiet, as if struck dumb, craning their necks to see the vaulted roof with its intersecting varieties in precision-tooled stone, evoking maybe a cover of hovering palms. A fugue by Bach performs on the organ, echoing fantastically across the partitions. The huge panels of stained glass (by Joan Vila-Grau) herald a flood of rainbow gentle; the impact is genuinely beautiful.
“What do you consider the inside?” asks our information.
“Massive,” “lovely,” “calm,” a few of us mumble.
Certainly it’s all of these issues—however I’ve nagging doubts. The 4 medallions positioned excessive on the central columns, every devoted to one of many 4 Evangelists, look to my eyes low cost and, sure, gaudy, like fridge magnets in a memento retailer. The tiled ground is as drab and workaday as a municipal put up workplace.
A couple of critic has in contrast the nave’s retro-futuristic grandeur to the set of a sci-fi film, and it’s true: the situation scouts for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune missed a trick. To cap all of it, excessive above the principle entrance stands a extremely stylised, hooded determine in blackened bronze, a 1989 work by sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs. “Should you suppose he seems a bit like Darth Vader, that’s completely okay,” says Alessia sweetly. (Actually the determine represents Saint George, patron saint of Catalunya.)
We exit the constructing to gaze on the “Ardour” façade, whose large-scale sculptural figures, additionally by Subirachs, have been vilified by artwork critics when first unveiled in 1987. I can see the mise en scène is incongruous, with no try made to combine these futuristic space-warriors into the remainder of the fantastical façade. How a lot this issues is a moot level. Gaudí himself recognised that, as with the cathedrals of the previous, he wouldn’t be the one architect to work on his nice closing venture. (There have been seven so far.) However standard “good style” prefers coherence in artwork, dislikes anachronism, and tends to balk at stylistic mashups.
Actually the Sagrada Familia has all the time provoked sturdy reactions each for and in opposition to. For its harshest detractors, particularly among the many Catalan architectural group, the latest phases of the constructing signify a betrayal of Gaudí’s uniquely private imaginative and prescient. For them the basic difficulty is the knowledge of pushing ahead with a projection of “what Gaudí would have finished” as an alternative of leaving the shell as a romantic damage. In 1956 a global group of artists and designers together with Le Corbusier, Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, and Nikolaus Pevsner, signed an open letter arguing that the Temple ought to be left in its uncooked, unfinished state. Extra not too long ago critics have complained in regards to the “sub-standard finishes,” the “horrible flooring,” the “soulless” inside. “Gaudí is unimaginable to breed. What they’ve finished is create an enormous kitsch object to draw the vacationer lots,” declared designer and architect Beth Galí.
In the meantime the vacationer lots have their very own tackle issues. I converse to Klaus and Nina, who hail from Cologne, Germany, the place the cathedral is a pinnacle of the Gothic type that Gaudí adored. The bar is excessive, then, however for them the Sagrada Familia has greater than lived as much as expectations.
“We knew this could be a particular a part of our vacation, however we didn’t count on it will be this particular,” smiles Nina. “It’s actually shocking, fairly superb. What I really like most is that it’s utterly completely different from a standard church.”
Benjamin, from Israel, is considerate in his enthusiasm. “It actually makes me really feel Gaudí’s reference to nature, which isn’t the identical as a non secular feeling. It’s not overwhelming, it’s not extreme—it’s simply sufficient,” he says.
So who’s proper: the metropolitan elite, the snobbish arbiters of style, or the basket of deplorables?
The consultants might wring their fingers, however after all their disapproval counts for nothing within the face of an enormous widespread vote in favor. Maybe the easiest way of reconciling such radically opposing views is to treat the constructing as a powerful folly, a big piece of inventive license whose very incoherence is value cherishing. Or possibly Pasqual Maragall, mayor of Barcelona in the course of the metropolis’s triumphant Olympic years, is correct when he says the Sagrada Familia is extra essential as an emblem of collective endeavor, and of Barcelona itself, than as a bodily construction.
From behind a makeshift fence on the rear of the constructing comes the roar of piledrivers; plumes of grey mud are carried away on a chilly wind. Cranes swing within the sky above the towers.
I head for the Metro station feeling chastened—nonetheless not solely satisfied by the Sagrada Familia, however decided to attempt to cease prejudice clouding my views of individuals and locations in future. There’s no accounting for style. Equally, there’s no sense in clinging to acquired opinions.