Watching History Rise in Barcelona

We traveled to Barcelona just about a year ago and I recently got to wondering how much progress has been made on Gaudi’s tour de force, La Sagrada Familia, in that time. Only 65% complete, the building is known as much for being under construction as it is for its splendid use of space, light and color.

interior of La Sagrada Familia

Though I had heard of the building, I did not really know much about it – or the rest of Gaudi’s work – before we went to Barcelona. When I first saw some of his buildings, with their bright colors, and, shall we say,  interesting, forms and use of elements from the natural world, my first instinct was to say, this guy was a little bit out there. But after taking the tour of the cathedral and in particular spending some time in the exhibit about Gaudi the person and the influences on his life, it all began to make sense.

To this day, my lasting impression from our visit, more so than understanding Gaudi the architect or Gaudi the person, is that I was witness to a bit of history. I saw one of the great buildings of the world being built.

Construction of La Sagrada Familia began in 1882. More than one hundred years later, the workers have access to cranes, elevators, hydraulic equipment and modern building materials. Despite these advantages, completion is not expected until 2026, or 2028 (what’s a couple years in a hundred-year timeline…).

Imagine, then, what it must have been like to be living in France, Spain or England during the Middle Ages and seeing one of the great cathedrals built, bit by laborous bit.

The great churches of the world were not built quickly: Notre Dame took almost 100 years (1163-1272) years, Salsbury 100 years exactly (1220-1320). Even a more contemporary example, the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid too more than 100 years to complete, begun in 1883 and completed at long last in 1999. The 144 years estimated for La Sagrada Familia is well within the norm.  A visit to La Sagrada, therefore, is a chance to witness history, to experience something similar to those who lived during the time of these monumental construction projects, knowing they are seeing something magnificent rise, knowing they would not live to see it completed, yet celebrating it.

With this in mind, I’ve moved Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth a bit higher on my reading list. At 806 pages, reading it is a monumental undertaking too, but at least it’s one that I will live to see through to the end.

If you go:
Book your tour of La Sagrada Familia online in advance and avoid wating in line. Full details at