The Swan Song Of Antoni Gaudi

The scaffolding covered structure that towered over us was underwhelming. Not that I had expected much else. As mentioned before, I had never been a Gaudi fan.

But again, delving into the symbolism inherent in every stone and more importantly, the  principles of construction, the designer in me could not help but be drawn into the spirit of the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, the magnum opus of Antoni Gaudi i Cornet!

Apse & Nativity Facade

R would have gladly skipped the tour of this ‘chocolate confection’ as he called it! But the price of traveling with an obsessive, compulsive spouse who needs to do everything ‘right’ is that you get dragged into places you would rather swap for a bar and a cold beer.

Since that was not an option in the near vicinity, he reluctantly stood in line with me for the 11am English tour. Our guide was a bit of an automaton and her few attempts at humour fell embarrassingly flat! But she somehow managed to impart a tremendous amount of information about the construction of this basilica that we had been unaware of!

Close up of Tower

To understand the concept of this building one needs to understand the Catenary arch –  the curve assumed (with the apex pointing downward) by a hanging chain or rope supported at its ends. Gaudi suspended strings of  the desired length from his layout plan and then worked out the volume and centre of gravity, as well as the optimum incline of his columns to support the roof, from the inverted Catenary arch which was the mirror image of this model!!

If you turn the image (below) upside down, you get a fair idea of the final shape and size of the Sagrada Familia! This also eliminated the need to shift the load outside onto external buttresses that was the norm in Gothic cathedrals. Gaudi percieved such buttresses as the main drawback of Gothic architecture and often referred to them as “vulnerable crutches”.  His giant Basilica could now stand free and tall with no outside supports!

Inverted Catenary arch model. The reflection of the model in the mirror above was photographed and used to determine the volume and center of gravity of the roof and the column incline needed to bear that load!

Gaudi reveled in Christian symbolism, and it was given free reign here, in the decorative elements but also in the architecture itself! The eighteen bell towers symbolise Jesus (the tallest and topped by a cross), the Virgin, the four evangelists and the twelve apostles.

The Nativity facade – the only one he worked on personally –  faces East, signifying light and life, and celebrates the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. The Passion facade faces west and the end of day symbolises darkness and death. This facade and especially the portico was designed in Gaudi’s words for the purpose of “giving an idea of the cruelty of the Sacrifice”.

The sculpture-set in the portico show the twelve stations of the cross. The yet to be completed Glory facade symbolises resurrection. The interior depicts Jerusalem, where a set of columns, dedicated to Christian cities and continents, represent the apostles!! Even the dear disinclined husband was mesmerised 🙂

Detail, Nativity facade

Gaudi worked on his dream project for 43 years – almost exclusively after the completion of Casa Mila in 1912 – and knew it would continue well beyond his lifetime. Upon his death in 1926 ( hit by a tram and tragically left unattended till too late, since he wasn’t carrying any identification.) he left behind meticulous drawings and scale models. Some of these were unfortunately lost in a fire and some more destroyed during the civil war. Architects and sculptors subsequently pieced together his original vision from a few surviving models and the wealth of records maintained by his assistants. His spirit guiding them from his final resting place below the crypt.

Today, 130 years later, the grand basilica of the Sacred Family seems ready to open its doors to the people of Barcelona……..almost

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

91 thoughts on “The Swan Song Of Antoni Gaudi

  1. I had never been a Gaudi fan either…but this past December/January I visited Barcelona for the first time and finally I understood just how amazing his work was/is. Beautiful!

  2. Hi Madhu,

    I love that I can learn so much from your posts, they are always so informative and interesting and accompanied by your beautiful photographs. Thank you!

    I love how imaginative Gaudi was and that he had such visions and determination to see them realised 🙂 So impressive whether his style is to you taste or not……


    1. Thank you Tania! You make me feel good 🙂 Loved your photo of the ceiling, but then I love ALL your photos!

  3. Great photos – I can really appreciate the enormous amount of skill that has gone into the design and construction. It is truly brilliant but I can’t help finding it quite …. ugly! Maybe ‘ugly’ is not the right word, for in smaller sections and close ups I find the work fascinating, but en masse it looks really messy (to my eye). I don’t naturally feel drawn to the style like I do to other types of architecture, and I don’t really understand some of the concepts – fruit on the top of the pillar??? I really did like the Passion Portico though, that felt a bit more cohesive rather than a lot of things clustered together in close proximity. Still, it is a fascinating study in architecture and construction. Thanks Madhu!! Your photos and commentary are always brilliant!

    1. Appreciate that Louise! Gaudi’s decorative elements ARE over the top! I too preferred the stylised sculptures of the passion facade to the overly embellished nativity facade!

  4. Just catching up! As always you satisfy my thirst for detail, both pictorially and historically. Did you know there was serious discussion – for a moment or two at least – about turning the whole thing into a metro station? I’m glad of your fabulous pictures because all my visits to Barcelona were in the pre-digital film-rationing days, and I’ve very few that aren’t degraded.

    1. I have loads of degraded images from the rest of Spain and Greece 😦 Might be reason enough for another visit.

        1. That too 😉 You cannot imagine how unbearable it is right now! Or how much worse it will get before it gets better!

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