The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain

La Sagrada Família

Antonio Gaudi’s masterpiece in Barcelona, Spain

“Glory is light, light gives joy and joy is the happiness of the spirit.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

The highlight of our Spanish road trip to Barcelona was our visit to Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Basilica De La Sagrada Família. Probably the world’s most famous construction site, the church was begun in 1882, and is expected to be completed for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026.

“My client is not in a hurry.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Today it is unusual for even major buildings to take more than a few years to complete. Technology has sped up the building process, but fine craftsmanship and details take time, and that type of work is rarely found in modern buildings.

Seeing the church both inside and out was awe inspiring. It is unique among churches, cathedrals, and architecture in general. We were there for several hours and could have stayed longer to appreciate all the details and symbolism. If you go, the audio guide is excellent, and make sure to visit the on-site museum to learn more about Gaudi and his work.

The Nativity Façade celebrates the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and represents life and joy.

About La Sagrada Família

The Sagrada Família was begun on March 19, 1882, from a project by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. At the end of 1883, Antonio Gaudí was commissioned to take on the project, which he continued until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued the work, following the guidelines set out by Antoni Gaudí. From its start, the church has been funded through donations and today also ticket sales from visitors.

When the church is finished it will have 18 towers: the highest adorned with a large cross representing Christ, one to Mary, 12 dedicated to the apostles, and 4 to the evangelists. It can hold 15,000 people, and a choir of 1000.

“Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Detail of the Nativity Façade

“Because of this, originality consists in returning to the origin.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

“Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

“Color in certain places has the great value of making the outlines and structural planes seem more energetic.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Ceiling detail.

“The amount of light should be just right, not too much, not too little, since having too much or too little light can both cause blindness.”

~ Antoni Gaudi

Part of the joy was watching other people’s reactions as they entered the church.

Its doors at the main entrance are printed with words from the Bible in various languages including Catalan.

The nearly completed Passion Façade, in contrast to the Nativity Façade, is stark with bone-like pillars. Fitting, as it represents the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.

The Glory Façade, which is the main façade, will be the last to be finished.

About Gaudi

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was a Catalan, born in Reus, a small town south of Barcelona. He went to Barcelona to study architecture, and upon completion of his studies, the director of the school commented “Today we have given an architecture degree to a madman or to a genius”.

Entrepreneur Eusebi Güell met Gaudi after seeing his work at the Spanish Pavilion at the 1878 World Fair’s in Paris. He became one of Gaudi’s best friends and clients, allowing him to develop his style on projects without interference, including Park Güell.   

Gaudi took on the Sagrada Família project at the age of 31. He was one of the world’s most outstanding architects and one of the Barcelona’s most well known residents. Seven properties built by Gaudí in or near Barcelona are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and his work is one of the city’s main cultural attractions.

The workshop at La Sagrada Família

Gaudí’s work is exceptionally creative, and he furthered the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gaudi was inspired first by nature, but also by art nouveau, gothicism, surrealism and modernist styles.

Gaudí was a devout man, attending church twice a day, and believed his architectural ability was a gift from God.

Gaudi’s room, in the house where he lived in Park Güell – today the Gaudí House Museum. Even though he created buildings and objects of beauty, he lived a simple life with few possessions.

On June 7, 1926, Gaudí was knocked down by a tram and seriously injured. He died three days later, and his body was buried on June 12 in the crypt of La Sagrada Família. His last words were “Amen. My God! My God!”

Plan your Visit to the Sagrada Familia

  • The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is located in Barcelona, Spain.
  • If you are planning to visit, purchase your tickets on the official Basilica de la Sagrada Familia website.
  • Tickets can be purchased online up to two months in advance. Same day tickets can be purchased at the ticket office onsite, subject to availability, but we highly recommend getting them online in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Tickets with audioguide are 26 € at time of writing.
  • We recommend the audio guide to fully appreciate and learn more about Antonio Gaudi and the history of the Basilica.

A view of the Sagrada Família from Parc Güell, over-looking the Mediterranean Sea.

The design of the Sagrada Família is challenging and still somewhat controversial. What’s your opinion?

Hagia Sophia – Byzantine Architectural Wonder

If you love architecture, then you probably love visiting cathedrals as much as I do. Besides their historical and religious significance, they represent the best engineering and architectural achievements of their day. So I was really looking forward to our visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and for nearly a thousand years it was the world’s largest cathedral.

The vast, central basilica has a central large dome supported by two half domes on the eastern and western sides.


 Historical context of Hagia Sophia

  • 532 AD Emperor Justinian I orders the Hagia Sophia church built.
  • 537 Hagia Sophia is completed.
  • 1296 Il Duomo in Florence, Italy—construction begins and is completed in 1436 with the dome engineered by Brunelleschi.
  • 1453 Hagia Sophia is converted to a mosque. Repairs are made and minarets are added.
  • 1506 Construction begins on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.
  • 1609 Construction begins on Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), and is completed in 1616.
  • 1626 St. Peter’s Basilica is completed.
  • 1935 The Turkish government secularizes the Hagia Sophia, and it opens as a museum.

The Church

The first two churches on this site were destroyed by riots and fire. Emperor Justinian I orders a new church that will be the largest building in the world. This new building, designed by Greek architects Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletos, was completed in 537, incredibly in less than six years.

The structure features a central dome with a diameter of over 101 feet (31 meters) and a height of 160 feet (48.5 meters).

Byzantine mosaic detail

Mosaic detail of Jesus Christ.

Materials for construction were brought from all over the empire, including columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

The Mosque

After Mehmed II’s conquest of the city in 1453, Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque until the early twentieth century. During this period, minarets were added, Christian symbols and mosaics were covered or removed, and exterior buttresses were added for structural support.

Portion of cross removed.

A few Christian symbols survived, and others are being restored as the Hagia Sophia is now a museum.

Islamic tile detail.

In the 15th century, during the Ottoman period, many structural repairs and improvements were made. In the 16th century the minarets were added.

The Museum

In 1934, the Turkish government secularized the building, converting it into a museum. Today repairs are being made and the original mosaics are being restored. The Hagia Sophia has fewer treasures than Saint Peter’s in the Vatican, for example. But perhaps because of this we could really focus on and appreciate the structure itself, and the treasures that have been revealed through restoration.

Detail of a restored angel.

With the Ottoman additions, you can see the influence of the Hagia Sophia on future mosques such as the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia by night