Part 7 and last in a series: The Modernisme towers of architect Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia basilica draws slack-jawed admirers from around the world. Inside? A soaring oasis of branching columns infused with light and color inspires reverence.
We had intended to visit Sagrada Familia at the start of our three-week trip to Spain, but we didn’t book tickets in time. Yep, slacking again. So, we carved out an afternoon plus a day before our flight home to visit a bit of Gaudí’s Barcelona: The Eixample district, Park Güell and, of course, Sagrada Familia.
We arrived in Barcelona from Toledo via Madrid early in the afternoon, dropped our bags at the hotel and began our trek to Passeig de Gràcia in The Eixample, home to many residences and businesses designed by the whimsical early 20th century architect. We were short on time and had lots to see.
Our free-form walking tour began in a crowd outside Casa Milà, an iconic residence designed by the master of “Catalon modernism.” Passeig de Gràcia is known as the most expensive street in Barcelona, so the price of admission to the iconic masterpiece was no surprise. A bit jaded by three weeks on the road, we took a pass. But acting on a tip, we visited a neighboring hardware store where we found view of the home out a back door for free. Plus we scored a new pen for The Geek’s journal! #Twofer
It’s easy to spot Gaudí’s architectural style and examples are plentiful on a winding stroll through the bustling Eixample. After an hour or two of hoofing, gawking and snapping pics, we headed back to the hotel via Mont Bar, a tapas restaurant recommended by Chef Jordi Artal of Cinc Sentits, where we had enjoyed an amazing meal 20 days earlier. (See the menu at the end of this post!)
Fortunately we arrived at Mont Bar during the late afternoon dining doldrums or we would have never found a seat. The place was empty. We each enjoyed a glass of wine and shared several tapas, including delicate and delicious croquetas and an amazing scoop of pine nut ice cream. Refreshed, we headed to the hotel to rest up before our day at Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. We were just warming up.
The construction cranes that tower above the unfinished stalagmite-like towers of Gaudí’s reimagination of gothic forms provided our first glimpse of Sagrada Familia. The work of generations, construction of the basilica began in 1882 and won’t be complete until 2026. Mebbe. The site is noisy and difficult to navigate, though functional knowledge of Catalan or even Spanish might have helped. Know this, if you don’t have a reservation you may wait hours to get inside if you can at all.
We arrived a bit early after a 2.5-mile stroll from the hotel. There’s no incentive to arrive early, as you won’t get in until your appointed time. But we happily joined the looky-loos craning their necks skyward at the towers and enjoying the sculpted detail of Christ’s nativity playing out across the façade of the primary visitor entrance.
Once inside, we were directed immediately to the line for our tower tour with little more than a glimpse of the sanctuary. An elevator takes guests – reservations only – to the top of one of the completed towers and you walk back down. You’ll see some nice cityscapes and architectural detail through the windows, but the spiral staircase is kind of claustrophobic as you circle down and down back to the floor of the basilica floor.
The interior of the cathedral offers a spartan beauty not found in most of Europe’s great cathedrals. Columns soar and branch like trees to support a canopy of hyperbolic and parabolic vaults infused with green and gold glass, evoking the treetops of a magnificent sacred forest.
Light streams into the cathedral through colored stained-glass windows featuring geometric shapes rather than iconic Christian scenes. The windows are installed in rainbow sequence, with cool colors facing east and warm colors facing west. The color spectrum meets at the corners and on the north and south facing walls. An explosion of color carpeted the floors during our late morning visit.
You’ll find no monuments to the egos of kings and donors at Sagrada Familia. No gilded chapels interrupting the aisles. No jumble of statues on wall-high altars. No bony relics. (Whew.) The only statues found inside the cathedral are of Mary and Joseph on opposite sides of the transcript, and of Jesus on the cross suspended delicately beneath a lighted canopy on nearly invisible wires above the low altar.
Before leaving, we stopped to pray in one of two areas roped off for more spiritually minded tourists and made a second stop to meditate on the beauty of Gaudi’s masterpiece in the pews in front of the altar, a truly special experience.
As we exited beneath a façade dedicated to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we turned back to admire the squarish art deco-style figures depicting the Easter story, a decidedly modern collection whose form, rather than detracting for the significance of the event, brought additional weight and gravity to the scenes.
The walk from Sagrada Familia to the park is a bit over two miles and pretty much up hill. It was lunchtime as we left the Basilica, so we stopped for el menu del dia at a bustling local café, a meal topped off by yummy coffee-flavored bread pudding. And we began our ascent.
Arriving about an hour before our assigned entry time, we cooled our heels at a tiny café just outside the entrance and refreshed with soft drinks. With 20 minutes to go, we tried to enter early but were rebuffed. We weren’t even allowed to get in line. So, we loitered surreptitiously near the gate until the appointed hour.
The park could pass as “Gaudí-land” at Euro Disney, though there are no rides. Gaudi supposedly was inspired by forms in nature, but the colorful hardscape and building designs seemed more like a distortion of nature in a natural setting.
We chose not to wait in line to tour Gaudi’s house but wandered the grounds thoroughly, gawking at drippy columns, arches and caves festooned with mosaics of colorful broken pottery. Glad we came. But after three weeks in Spain and 24 hours in Gaudí’s Barcelona, we were done – except for the four-mile walk back to the hotel.
it was quitting time in Barcelona, and we jockeyed on narrow sidewalks past workers and children being escorted home from school, many of them gnawing on cheese sandwichas as an afternoon treat. We closed our last day in Spain at the hotel bar with our last taste of jamon iberico and croquetas, washed down by sangria so strong that the two of us couldn’t finish one glass.
Thank you, Barcelona! Thank you, Spain! Cheers!
Way back in Part 1 of our seven-part blog series on travels in Spain, we promised more about our amazing meal at Cinc Sentits, which we also referenced above. Our editorial plans shifted a bit. But for all you foodies out there who have been standing by, here’s a look at the meal in pictures along with a copy of the menu. Enjoy! Or better yet, come to Barcelona and taste it for yourself. Tell Chef Jordi that MontaraManDan and The Geek sent you!
This is the last of a seven-part series of our travels to six major Spanish cities across three weeks in the fall of 2017. Special thanks to The Geek for the comprehensive journal she kept throughout our journey.