As a very young child, I saw a photo of the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona and I was sure that it had been designed by someone who had dribbled mud into castle spires on the beach.

It was beautiful, fanciful and amazing…a thing of dreams.

Today, I stepped out of the Metro station in Barcelona and came face to face with…Burger King. Oh, but then I turned around and fell head over heels back into that dream.

The cornerstone for the structure was laid around the time my great grandfather was born. As I approach my 60th birthday, cranes still buzz around the site, lifting pieces into place and designs pieces are still coming together nearly a century and a half on.

We bought our tickets in advance from the Sagrada Familia Foundation (Sagrada In addition to getting a better price than is offered by the third party vendors, we didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets…we just showed up at the appointed time, went through security and stepped to the entrance.

An audio tour is available on the Foundation’s free app.

We spun around, this way and that, looking at the grand scale and the tiniest details. At once overwhelming and calming, the basilica is dedicated to the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) and all of God’s creation.

Architect Antoni Gaudi, who led the project from 1883 until his death in 1926, was a visionary in his architectural designs, using techniques that had never been tried and infusing them with artistic details that mirrored nature.

Flying buttresses had, for centuries, supported the structure of churches. Gaudi studied trees and made columns that were able to support the roof and spires with their stone trunks and branches. A forest of trees, their branches pushing through a stone canopy, hold the towering structure aloft.

The Forest of columns, designed by Gaudí
Photo by Steve Barnes

In the nave, the colors dance and change their shape and position throughout the day. Cool blues and greens shine from the east, warmer reds and oranges shine in with the afternoon sun. The light stone of the columns, walls and floors is the perfect surface for the light to reflect.

In the nearly 100 years since his death, details reflecting his vision have emerged from the stone and brightened the interior through colored glass. Seventeen spires reach toward Heaven. The final one, 170 meters tall, representing Jesus, is just a little shorter than the tallest of the hills surrounding Barcelona. Gaudi, it is said, insisted that no work of man should be higher than something created by God.

The plan had been for the basilica to be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death, but construction was halted for two years because of Covid and a controversy with neighboring residents who would be displaced by the construction of a planned grand staircase at the entrance have pushed back the completion indefinitely.

The guides say the tour of the basilica can be done in 45 minutes. I’d say you might want to plan for 3 hours, at least if you plan to see even the most basic of details.

Our tour cost about $25 each (almost half of what others were charging), but the money helps fund continued work on the project.

Sculpture on the exterior of the basilica by Josep Maria Subirachs Photo by Steve Barnes