Sagrada Familia – Interesting Facts, Design, History and Tourist Information

La Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic basilica in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. For its towering and special shape, the basilica is the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona. Sagrada Familia was designed by Antony Gaudí and started constructing in 1882, the church still hasn't complete after more than 130 years.
Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed Sagrada Familia a basilica in November 2010. Although it's not a cathedral which is the seat of a bishop, the scale of Sagrada Familia is not inferior to some of largest cathedrals in the world.

About the Name:

The whole name of Sagrada Familia in Catalan is "Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família", literally means Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, the name is often shortened as "The Basilica of the Sagrada Família", "La Sagrada Família" or directly "Sagrada Família".

Design and heights:

Sagrada Familia is designed with various architectural styles, including Gothic, Catalan Modernism(a local style of Barcelona, don't confused with Modernism) and Art Nouveau(literally New Art, which was inspired by natural forms and structures, especially the curved lines of natural things like plants and flowers). The design of basilica features obvious and strong natural elements, Antoni Gaudí takes inspiration from the forms of a variety of animals and plants to design the basilica, and depicts lots of figures and stories from the Bible across the whole structure, the basilica can be seen as a visualized bible.

Once complete, the basilica will have three grand façades on its sides of east(simplified direction, actually northeast, the next sides are also simplified) west, and south, which are respectively named the Nativity Façade, the Passion Façade, and the Glory Façade, the east and west grand façades are complete, while the south façade is still under construction.
Each of these three façades contains 4 towers, in total is 12 towers, representing 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ. Besides these 12 towers, other 6 taller towers will be situated in the middle of the church, among these 6 towers 4 of them are dedicated to 4 evangelists(Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), these 4 towers are designed in the same height and surround another tower in the center, which is highest tower of the church that represents Jesus Christ. The very north one of these 6 central towers is slightly shorter than 4 towers of evangelists, but much more sturdy, representing Virgin Mary.

A render of Sagrada Familia shows how it looks when it's completed.

The varying heights of these towers are designed to reflect the hierarchy of the corresponding biblical figures, it's kind of weird that the tower of Virgin Mary is designed shorter than 4 of evangelists, as Antoni Gaudí is a catholic.
Below is the diagram of the layout of 3 façades and 18 towers of the basilica, heights of 18 towers are included.

The central tower which represents Jesus Christ will stand 170 meters tall, this will make Sagrada Familia the tallest church in the world after its completion, surpassing the 162-meter Ulm Cathedral in Germany. The height of the central tower is deliberately designed to be 1 meter less than that of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona, the tallest hill in the city, because Gaudí believed that his building should not be higher than the work of God.

The central tower of Jesus Christ is built directly above a chamber, which is designed to support the height of the tower and to funnel sunlight into the church.

The tower of Jesus seen under construction

The Tower of Jesus will be surmounted by a giant cross, while other surrounding towers will be topped by other symbols, the towers of three grand facade are topped by episcopal symbols.

Apart from 18 towers of the church, there are also many smaller pinnacles on the church, these pinnacles are surmounted by some other religious stuffs like sheaves of wheat and bunches of grapes, which represent the Eucharist.

About three Grand Façades

Nativity Façades:

Nativity Façades is dedicated to the birth of Jesus Christ, its outer façades is heavily decorated with sculptures of different sizes, these sculptures depict the scenes of stories from Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary to the growth of Jesus.


The façade faces to the northeast, the direction of the rising sun, representing the birth of Jesus Christ.
The four towers of the façade are each represents an apostle of Jesus: Matthias, Barnabas, Jude, and Simon.

Passion Facade:

Passion Facade is dedicated to the death of Jesus.
Unlike the highly decorated Nativity Façade, the outer façade of Passion Façade is plain and simple, the façade is composed of bare stone, which is carved with harsh straight lines to form angular and rigid shapes, resembling the bones of a skeleton and showing the brutality of the sacrifice of Christ.


The sculptures on this façade is much fewer than that of the Nativity Façade, these sculptures depict the scenes of the stories from the last supper, Judas' kiss, to the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection.
The façade faces the setting sun to the southwest, representing the death of Christ.
The Passion Façade has six large and inclined columns supported on the outer ground, the columns are designed to resemble the Sequoia trunks. Eighteen white and smaller columns are built in the shape of bones above the large inclined columns.


The four towers are each dedicated to an apostle of Jesus: James, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Philip.
A sky bridge with a bronze figure is hovering between the towers of Thomas and Bartholomew represents the Ascension of Jesus.

Glory Façade:

The Glory Façade on the south side of the building is dedicated to the Celestial Glory of Jesus, it will be the tallest façade of all three façades, it's designed as the principal façade, offering access to the nave of the church. Glory Façade will be decorated with sculptures of idols, false gods and demons.

The interior of the building

Natural elements is not only shown on the exterior of the church, but also can be found inside the church. Like many cathedrals in Europe, the ceilings in the interior of the church is very high, the ceilings is supported by many large and high pillars, which are intricately carved to resembling trees.

The video below shows the details of the interior of the church.

Development and History of Sagrada Familia:

In 1870s, a Barcelona bookseller named Josep Maria Bocabella came up the idea of building a expiatory church in his hometown after he visited Italy, he founded Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph to develop the church, as an expiatory church, the funds were mostly come from donations from individuals. The architect Francisco de Paula del Villar was asked to design the church, he designed a standard Gothic Revival church for the project. The construction began on March 19, 1882, the festival of St. Joseph. After one year, the apse crypt was completed, then the Association decided to redesign the church, as they think cost of the version designed by Francisco de Paula del Villar is too high, after that the project was eventually passed over to Antony Gaudí.
Gaudí redesigned the whole church except of the crypt, which was already under construction and partially completed, he turned the church into a Art Nouveau building from a Gothic Revival building, in the same time he directed the construction on the crypt of the church according to Francisco de Paula del Villar's design.
The crypt of the church was completed in 1892, the construction of Nativity Façade began in 1892 and completed in 1930.

Nativity Facade is the first completed facade of Sagrada Familia.

Antony Gaudí had died in 1926, after he died the construction work continued under the direction of the architect Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, a disciple of Gaudí, he held the charge for another 10 years, until the Spanish Civil War broke in 1936, the construction was interrupted by the war and halted for almost twenty years. The construction resumed in 1954, and the Passion façade was completed in 1977. The apse and nave were constructed between 1978 and 2000.
Construction on the Glory Façade on the south side of the church started in 2002, as of 2018, the Glory Façade is still under construction, along with 6 central towers, which has almost started taking the shape.


Now the basilica is in its 136th year and is approximately 70 percent complete. The completion date is expected to be in 2026, which coincides with the centenary of Gaudí's death.

The video below shows the left construction stages and the appearance of the church upon completion.

Apparently this completion date seems too early, as current completed portion has taken 136 years of construction, however it's still possible, as the use of computers has rapidly sped up the progress, by contrast, there were no computers before the mid 20th century, by that time architects and workers could only rely on paper sketches, it took much more time to put together all the needed pieces of the structure accurately. Computer could make things faster and more accurate. Moreover, with the modern technology the stone used on the building are shaped by a sort of milling machine, whereas in the old time they were all carved by hand. These new technologies could significantly accelerate the progress, making the building eventually complete by the centenary of Gaudí's death.
According to Jordi Fauli, the current chief architect of Sagrada Familia, the building is on track to complete in 2026, however some decoration elements will take longer to finish, the real completion date could be in around 2032.

Tourist Information:

Although Sagrada Familia is still under construction, it has become the most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona, attracting about 3 million visitors a year.
To visit the church, visitors are required to purchase the tickets in advance online. Visitors can access the Nativity façade, Passion façade, Nave and Crypt, which are complete sections of the building, and a Museum, which contains a collection of drawings, photos and models of the development of Sagrada Familia.
The tops of the towers are accessible via elevators, at such a high point visitor can see the panorama view of the city of Barcelona from above.

Visitors can walk across the sky bridge between the towers to access other towers.

A narrow spiral staircase of over 300 steps is used for descending to the ground.

The entrance fee range between €15 to €29 ($18 to $36), depending on which parts to visit and the options of the additional guiding service, the entrance fee is then be used to supplement the building's annual construction budget of €25 million ($30 million).

Location of the Church:

The address of Sagrada Familia is Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain. The church can be accessed by taking Metro Line 2 or Line 5, and stop at Sagrada Familia Station.

Some other interesting facts of Sagrada Familia:

1. The architect of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí is buried in this church, Gaudí's tomb is located in the underground level of Sagrada Familia, visitors are allowed to come down to see the tomb, the tomb is held in a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of El Carmen, which is surrounded by four other chapels, each also dedicated to a different figure.

2. As such a unique and innovative building, Sagrada Familia is the only building in the world that had been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site before its completion. It received the designation in 1984 together with other 6 buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, under the name of Works of Antoni Gaudí.

3. Sagrada Familia is heavily influenced by the natural elements, a pillar inside the church has a sculpture of turtle at its base, and another one has a tortoise, this is designed to to show the balance between land and sea.


4. Antoni Gaudí started designing Sagrada Familia in his 31, he spent 43 years in his life on the designing of Sagrada Familia, until in 1926 when he died in a tram accident. Before that in 1925, Gaudí even moved to the construction site to live, putting all his effort in designing the building, including the architectural design and structural design. As Gaudí cared about mostly on his building, he paid no attention to his dressing, after he crashed by the tram, the driver assumed him a beggar because of his shabby clothing, for this the architect missed the immediate aid. Gaudí left lots of valuable models and drafts for the Sagrada Familia after his death.
5. In 1936 in the Spanish Civil War, a group of anarchists broke into the construction site of Sagrada Familia and set fire to the crypt, which was the workshop located at, many materials of plans made by Gaudí were destroyed, a few were saved, in recent years many of those destroyed materials have been partially reconstructed.

6. There used to be someone asking Antoni Gaudí why the church takes so long to build, Gaudí replied that his client is not in a hurry, his client actually refers to God.
7. The whole building of Sagrada Familia is designed very intricate, even the spires on the top are designed very elaborate, Gaudí was once asked why he makes the spires so elaborate, as no one could see the details of the spires clearly, he responded, "The angels will see them."

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