Author: Ailbhe Macmahon for Mailonline and Afp
Published: December 13, 2021 at 09:48 EDT | Updated: December 13, 2021 at 11:08 EDT
'This guy is a genius. The things in his mind are crazy. Said Victor, the guide of the late architect Antoni Gaudi. I must agree.
During a private tour of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, I was looking up at the golden base of the Santa Maria Novella Tower. This church is Gaudí’s famous unfinished masterpiece and has been built for nearly 140 years.
I came here on a historic day-a few hours ago, the Tower of the Virgin Mary became the first tower of the Sagrada Familia officially opened to the public since 1976.
The middle picture is the golden base of the Santa Maria Novella Tower of the Sagrada Familia
The Tower of the Virgin Mary, pictured on the right, is the first tower of the Sagrada Familia officially opened to the public since 1976
Ailbhe (pictured on the left) had the opportunity to privately visit Gaudí's famous unfinished masterpiece a few hours after the opening of the new tower (in the background). The picture on the right is the much-anticipated "Light Up the Stars" ceremony that illuminates the new tower. Pope Francis sent a video message to commemorate this moment, praising the "great architect" Gaudi
After completion, the church will have 18 towers. This 138-meter (452-foot) high spire is the ninth tower completed in the extension.
At the top of the Tower of the Virgin Mary is a 5.5-ton, 12-pointed glass star called the "Star of Bethlehem".
During a private visit, Jordi Fauli, the architectural director of the Sagrada Familia-he was only 31 years old when he joined the construction team as a local in 1990-told me that the star was part of Gaudí's otherworldly vision for the church.
Above, you will see the roof of the central church of the Sagrada Familia, the central foreground is the bottom of the Santa Maria Novella Tower
The picture shows the 5.5-ton, 12-point glass star installed on the top of the Tower of Virgin Mary in late November
The "Star of Bethlehem" on the new spire-as shown in the picture-remained in the dark until the official "Star of Light" ceremony was held on December 8.
The superstar marks the completion of the tower of the Virgin Mary of the Sagrada Familia
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The picture shows Jordi Fauli, the architectural director of the Sagrada Familia, in the church
'He designed the sketch of the entire church and it was completely finished. He painted the star as a large circle and illuminated it," Fuli said.
This star was installed on the top of the Tower of Virgin Mary in late November. It stayed in darkness until December 8th, when I participated in the official "Light the Stars" ceremony with the locals outside the Sagrada Familia.
There was silence in the air, followed by the cheers of silence, and the light traveled up the tower, turning the stars into luminous beacons. Pope Francis sent a video message to commemorate this moment, praising the "great architect" Gaudí.
This is a historic moment for the team behind the long-running construction. They have worked hard for the project for decades.
When describing the ceremony, Ailbhe wrote: “Before the almighty cheers, there was silence in the air, and the light went up the tower (the far right in the picture), turning the stars into luminous beacons.”
Fauli said: "When I arrived, [in the central nave] only three pillars were built and they were only 10m (33 feet) high.
"I was fortunate to be able to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy, and now the main tower."
When completed, the tallest tower of the church — dedicated to Jesus Christ — will rise 172m (564 feet) above the streets of Barcelona. This will make it the tallest church in the world, surpassing Ulm Cathedral in Germany.
The picture shows the "passion facade" of the Sagrada Familia. After the church is completed, it will become the tallest church in the world, surpassing Ulm Cathedral in Germany
Sculpture on the "Passion Facade". The church was originally scheduled to be completed in 2026, but the coronavirus pandemic has delayed this deadline
So, when does Fauli think the entire project will be completed? The 2026 finish line was previously proposed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed this deadline. The decline in the number of tourists means less funding-the foundation relies on tourists and private donations to fund the completion of the project.
"It is impossible for us to propose a new date because we don't know how many tourists it will have. We need tourists," Welfare told me.
In 1887, four years after Gaudí took over the design of the church, the Sagrada Familia was being built
Gaudí’s death in 1926 heralded a new era in the church, and seven new architects took turns to realize his vision of architecture. The picture on the right is Anthony Gaudi, circa 1882. The modernist architect is buried in the basement below the Sagrada Familia
He hopes that the buzz surrounding the completion of the new tower will inspire more people to visit and fund the construction. "Maybe from today [there] there will be new donations from all over the world," he said.
Gaudí took over the design of the church in 1883, replacing the original architect Francisco de Paula del Villar who originally planned to design the Gothic Revival prayer room.
This became the obsession of Gaudí throughout his life. The modernist architect devoted himself to religion in his later years, wearing a ragged suit and a beard. In June 1926, he was hit by a tram on his way to the church of Sant Felip Neri to repent.
The construction director Fauli hopes that the buzz after the completion of the new tower (not shown) will inspire more people to visit and fund the construction
The central nave. The construction of the church is based on meticulous research of Gaudí’s photos, paintings and testimonies
Because of his disheveled clothes, he was mistaken for a beggar and was abandoned by the railroad tracks. Eventually, he was taken to the poor ward of Santa Cruz Hospital, where he died three days later.
When news of the pioneer architect's death spread, thousands of people lined up in the street to attend his funeral. He was buried in the cellar below the Sagrada Familia.
Gaudí's death heralded a new era for the church, and seven new architects took turns to realize his vision of architecture.
Fauli believes that the “main goal” of the Sagrada Familia’s design is to “enhance the people”
The Sagrada Familia is the most popular tourist attraction in Spain. The picture shows the baldachin on the altar of the church [ceremonial canopy]
"Gaudi wants the inside of the church to be like a forest," explains Victor, the tour guide of the travel company GetYourGuide
According to Elbe, Gaudí’s vision of the forest has become a reality through "stone, concrete and colored glass"
Many of Gaudí's original designs were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
But Fauli, who has been leading the construction team since 2012, insists that the project remains faithful to Gaudí's plan because it is based on a meticulous study of the photos, drawings, and testimonies of the late architect. Fauli believes that the "main goal" of design is to "improve the quality of people."
Inside, I found the church very quiet, still, bathed in the psychedelic vortex of psychedelic colors from the stained glass windows. The only sound is the sound of our footsteps.
Ailbhe learned that seeing the Sagrada Familia without the usual crowds of tourists is a rare privilege-before the pandemic, it attracted more than 4 million visitors each year. The picture above was taken during Ailbhe's tour
A guided group tour of the Sagrada Familia with GetYourGuide costs £46 per person. The private tour fee is £117.88 per person.
GetYourGuide has planned a 48-hour Barcelona experience itinerary, such as walking tours, local food tasting experiences, and tickets to museums and galleries. For more information, please visit: getyourguide.co.uk.
Victor works at GetYourGuide, a travel company that specializes in unique experiences. He told me that seeing the Sagrada Familia without the usual crowds of tourists is a rare privilege. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Spain, and before the pandemic, it attracted more than 4 million tourists every year. "I'm used to seeing a lot of people [here] all the time, but it's great. You are lucky," he said.
"Gaudi wants the inside of the church to be like a forest," Victor added. This dreamlike forest is brought to life through stone, concrete and tinted glass. The huge sweeping column flows from the floor to the ceiling, carved to resemble a tree trunk. The dappled light is filtered through the window, just as sunlight seeps through the canopy of leaves. "Gaudi thinks the forest is a good place to pray," Victor pointed out.
Other nods to the natural world constitute this surreal space. A huge oyster shell-a gift from the Philippine government-holds holy water at an entrance. A stout tortoise guards the birth facade of the church-one facing the sea and the other facing the mountains.
I was taken into the sacristy, which is an area normally forbidden to the public. The room is full of furniture and decorations—rotating candlesticks, carved benches—that Gaudí designed specifically for the church.
The outside is just as incredible as the inside. The church looks like an exquisite ice cake, with a spire inlaid with spires reaching out to the sky.
Although this is a work in progress, it is a sight worth seeing. With this, I left the Sagrada Familia-the most beautiful construction site in the world.
For more information, please visit getyourguide.co.uk.
Aerial shot of "work in progress" Sagrada Familia rising from the skyline of Barcelona
I saw it ten years ago, but then, even an atheist...
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