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Sagrada Familia: Barcelona’s religious architectural wonder

I RECENTLY returned from Barcelona, Spain, where I was attending a World Association of Newspapers and Publisher (WAN-IFRA) Women In News Steering Committee meeting.
This was the first time I was travelling to the Spanish country and I must confess I was swept off my feet by the architectural beauty and ingenuity my eyes beheld in this part of Europe.
My meeting schedule was very tight but WAN-IFRA was benevolent to accord us a half-day excursion to the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s monumental church.
The tour was scheduled for Saturday morning and by 08:00 hours we were all gathered in the lobby of the prestigious Alexandria Hotel where WAN-IFRA invitees were lodged before departing for the Sagrada Familia site located a few metres away from the hotel.
I actually wondered why the organisers decided to book a bus to drive us to the site because it only took us about five minutes to reach there and a walk only takes about 20 minutes. The monumental church is actually on the same street (Mallorca) as Alexandria Hotel.
Arriving at the Iconic attraction site, we were greeted by this enormous and awesomely designed building.
I wondered at the kind of inventiveness that went into the delicate carvings on each front of the enormous church building. The detailing in the design of the Sagrada Familia building is just astounding.
I was so dazed by the architectural beauty of the Sagrada Familia that I did not mind being in the queue for over 30 minutes to gain access to the premises of the basilica.
The iconic tourist site is so popular that there are usually long queues to go in, and this was the case the day we visited. Statistics indicate that over two million people visit the site annually.
Upon entry into the premises, we were assigned a tour guide who took us round while explaining the rich history and biblical teachings woven in the architectural beauty of the Sagrada Familia building.
While the idea of building the Sagrada Familia was the inspiration of a Spanish bookseller, Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José (Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph), the design of the building is a brainchild of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. This is the man behind most architectural designs spread across Barcelona.
I was stunned to learn that construction of the Sagrada Familia which began in 1882 is still on-going and so far only 75 percent of the works have been done. It is projected that the actual structure will be completed in 2026 while the decorative part will be concluded between 2030 and 2032.
The architects estimate that construction of the monumental church will take longer than the Egyptian pyramids and 50 years less than the Great Wall of China.
When the Sagrada Familia is completed, it will be the tallest religious building in all of Europe. The central tower in the middle will reach 170 metres tall.
At the time of Mr Gaudi’s death in 1926, only a quarter of the construction works on the Sagrada Familia had been done. However, other architects that have come on board are still following Mr Gaudi’s design to date.
Exterior has three frontages
The exterior of the Sagrada Familia has three grand frontages Рthe Nativity fa̤ade to the East, the Passion fa̤ade to the West, and the Glory fa̤ade to the South which is yet to be completed. All these faces of the church building have sculptures portraying biblical stories from the birth of Jesus Christ to His ascendance to glory.
The Nativity façade, which faces the rising sun to the north-east, symbolises the birth of Jesus Christ. Its design includes sculptures elaborately arranged and decorated with scenes and images from nature, each a symbol in their own manner.  The façade is divided into three porticos, each representing a theological virtue – hope, faith and charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the zealot).
The Passion façade, unlike the highly decorated Nativity Façade, is plain and simple with ample bare stone, and is carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton.
This particular front is dedicated to the suffering of Jesus Christ during His crucifixion. It faces the setting sun, indicative and symbolic of the death of Christ.
Sculptures in this particular façade tell the biblical stories such as “The Last Supper”, “The kiss of Judas Iscariot” and “The Trial of Jesus Christ”.
Other depictions include Calvary or Golgotha of Christ, the death, burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The façade has four towers, each dedicated to the apostles, James, Thomas, Philip, and Bartholomew. There is also a bronze figure situated on a bridge creating a link between the towers of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thomas which represents the ascension of Jesus Christ.
Though not yet completed, it is envisioned that the Glory facade will be the largest and most striking of all. It will be the principal façade and will offer access to the central nave. Dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it represents the road to God: Death, Final Judgment, and Glory, while hell is left for those who deviate from God’s will.
The interior
When the tour guide took us inside the basilica I could not resist falling in love with the interior. While the exterior is full of elaborate sculptures, the inside is amazingly elegant but much simpler. It is indisputable that careful thought was put into the design of the entire building.
It was amazing to see how light flows in from specific places, to add to the atmosphere. The colour of the windows also adds to the splendour and the lights inside are uniquely designed. The detail and lighting in the roof is yet another breathtaking spectacle. The interior pillars actually resemble trees, and when you look up at them their shapes constantly change, as real trees appear to do. There is also a tortoise and turtle holding up these pillars, representing both the earth and the sea.
The doors to the massive building are also intricately engraved with countless scriptures.
The Sagrada Familia, which currently has eight towers standing, is expected to have 18 towers at the end of the project. Twelve of the towers will represent the apostles, four will represent the evangelists, one will be designated for the Virgin Mary, and the last and highest tower in the middle will represent Jesus Christ.
Due to its magnificent and unique architectural design, the Sagrada Familia was in 1984 designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site among other six buildings designed by Mr Gaudi.
To wind up the tour of Sagrada Familia, we were led to a school site within the premises. The school called Sagrada Familia Schools building was built in 1909 by Mr Guadi to cater for the children of construction workers while their fathers spent their days and nights building the basilica. Mr Gaudi did what he knew best by uniquely designing the school, which is also now being used as an exhibition site.
PanOroma bus tour of Barcelona
After the inspiring expedition of the Sagrada Familia, we were taken on a 30-minute panorama bus tour of Barcelona.
This drive showcased the beauty of central Barcelona which is characterised by different spectacular sites and buildings. On board we had a tour guide pointing us to important places and buildings.
Among the notable places we saw is the Port of Barcelona, the oldest restaurant – 7 Portes (Seven Doors) established in 1936, and the Olympic Park of Barcelona that hosted the Olympics in 1992 but its units have since been sold to private individuals who use them as residences.
We also drove past Casa Batlló and Casa Mila buildings which are part of Mr Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces.
After the panorama tour we were back to serious business again in the conference rooms.
During my stay in Spain I found Spaniards to be very warm people, contrary to what I had anticipated because of what I had heard.
While applying for my visa at the Swedish Embassy here in Lusaka, I met an old colleague from university who warned me of racism in the country I was travelling to.
I must admit I never experienced even a bit of it, whether at the hotel, shops, restaurants or the streets. The people were all just superb.

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