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Viva la Sagrada Familia

Laura Puttkamer
The Sagrada Familia dominates Barcelona's skyline. Photo: Michal Jarmoluk via Pixabay

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On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Antoni Gaudí’s death, Barcelona’s most famous landmark, the Sagrada Familia, was supposed to be completed by 2026 (finally!). But this will not happen. Here you can read why.

The last cathedral in the world

The Sagrada Familia is a world-famous building and the last cathedral in the world still under construction. Its architect, the Spaniard Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), only saw a small part of his masterpiece realised. He was aware that the Sagrada Familia would take many decades to build. Actually, the year 2026, the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death, was planned for completion. But now the date has been further delayed.

The cathedral belongs to the era of Catalan Art Nouveau but cannot be directly assigned to this epoch due to its specificity. This also applies to the imposing, imaginative other buildings by Gaudí that adorn Barcelona. In addition to the Sagrada Familia, the houses Casa Vicens and Casa Battló as well as Park Güell and La Pedrera are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Construction of the imposing Sagrada Familia began on 19 March 1882 under the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. Only a year later he resigned and Antoni Gaudí took over the project. He changed the designs, sometimes drastically, but retained some of the original Gothic elements. He worked on the project until the end of his life and even lived in the cathedral at the end.

The Sagrada Familia opened its doors on 7 November 2010. On that day, it was consecrated by the then Pope Benedict XVI in front of 6,500 people. With around 4.5 million visitors per year, the cathedral is one of the most popular sights in Europe. More information for a visit can be found on the cathedral’s homepage.

View of the Sagrada Familia under construction. Photo: Eszter Miller via Pixabay

A new date for the Sagrada Familia

After 144 years of construction, the cathedral was scheduled to open in 2026 in honour of Gaudí. However, the Corona pandemic threw a spanner in the works of this plan. In 2020, construction work had to be halted for several months. The strict lockdowns in Spain delayed the plans. Nevertheless, the tower of the Virgin Mary with its distinctive twelve-cornered star that glows at night managed to open in December 2021.

When completed, the Sagrada Familia will consist of 18 towers. The tallest of these, named after Jesus Christ, will extend 172.4 metres into the air. This will make the Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world. Currently, the Ulm Cathedral holds this record with its highest point at 161.5 metres.

Of the 18 towers of the Sagrada Familia, only eight are currently completed. The main façade is also still missing. A new date for the completion of the Sagrada Familia has not yet been set.

One tower after the other

Since the Sagrada Familia is financed exclusively by entrance fees and donations from visitors, there were no more finances with the Corona-related closure in 2020. Compared to 2019, Sagrada Familia lost over 81 million euros in 2021. It is the longest construction project in the world.

The new tower of the Virgin Mary represented an important symbol of the construction process. No tower had been completed for 44 years. Now the second highest tower of the complex towers over the city. The towers of the Evangelists Luke and Mark are to be completed next. Since June 2021, further construction has been possible, albeit quite slowly. 2030 has already been ruled out as a date for completion. It is not until 2024 that the building process is expected to be able to resume at full speed.

Every month, the central tower, Jesus Christ, grows a little further in height. Once it is finished, it will have a cross with four bell-shaped arms. In the style of Gaudí, it will be decorated with ceramics and glass. The cross will be 13.5 metres wide and illuminated at night.

Of the Sagrada Familia's 18 towers, only eight are completed. Source: Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Conflicts with the neighbours of the Sagrada Familia

A walk near the Sagrada Familia shows that the construction process is in trouble even apart from the Corona episodes: posters and sheets with angry messages in Catalan hang from many windows in the immediate vicinity. This is about residents of Mallorca Street who live directly opposite the Gloria façade that is currently under construction. This façade is also known as the Glory Façade. It is dedicated to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

In order to be able to reach the façade and the main entrance that will be located there in the future, stairs are to be built. To do this, however, it is necessary to demolish several buildings on Mallorca Street. Thousands of residents would lose their homes.

In addition, the city of Barcelona has designated the area where the façade is currently being built as a green space. Accordingly, more priority for pedestrians and cyclists should be guaranteed here. However, the current plans do not provide for this.

Shortly before the start of the Corona pandemic, talks began between the Sagrada Familia board, the local council, and the affected neighbours. However, these talks have been paused for the time being. It is also still unclear whether and how Sagrada Familia will be able to comply with all the regulations of the building permit, which it did not receive until 2019. One thing is certain: The world’s last cathedral will still be under construction for quite a while.

You can read more about the Catalan city in our Barcelona city portrait or our article superblocks.

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