Thursday, May 1, 2014

Smooth Getaway Postcard From Barcelona Spain

Most of the world’s major cities have an iconic attraction that identifies the metropolis in the minds of residents and tourists alike. In Paris it’s the Eiffel Tower, in New York it’s the Statue of Liberty, in Sydney it’s the Opera House. In Barcelona Spain, the iconic landmark is the Sagrada Familia - and it isn’t even finished yet.

The Sagrada Familia, more formally known as the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, is a spiritual and architectural masterpiece begun in 1882 and projected for completion in 2026. Its primary architect is Antoni Gaudi, a Barcelona icon himself, who worked on this Catholic church from 1893 until his death in 1926. The edifice was about 20% complete at Gaudi’s passing, and its construction has been interrupted by wars and lack of funding. When finished, the church will be the tallest in the world with capacity for more than 6,000 worshippers.

What is unique about the church is a modernist style and garish ornamentation characteristic of Gaudi. On the outside, soaring towers (eight of eighteen completed) and decorative facades (two of three completed) tell the story of Jesus and his early followers, setting the Sagrada Familia apart from most ordinary churches. Still, I found the interior, dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, most extraordinary, despite not being a big fan of Gaudi’s architecture. 

The ornamentation in his palatial residences and whimsical apartment buildings seems to me more appropriate for illustrations in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. However, the interior of the Sagrada Familia was just jaw-dropping. Gaudi’s design is an expression of his deep faith on a grand scale. What was especially surprising was the intense light in the interior, contrasting with the rather dark exterior. Gaudi designed the building in such a way that natural light from outside is magnified, taking on an other-worldly quality.

The Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s most popular destination, with over three million visitors a year. One doesn’t have to be Catholic or a student of architecture to deeply appreciate Gaudi’s monumental statement of worship. Because crowds line up early in the morning, I recommend getting tickets online. The admission is 14.80 Euros plus 4.50 for the tower elevator. The construction is totally financed by admissions and private donations, not by the church or the city.

Barcelona (population 1.6 million) is one of Europe’s most popular destinations, a bustling hub of business, arts, food, sports and sightseeing. Gaudi’s other architectural sites (nine are open to the public) include Parc Guell and La Pedrera apartments. Additional attractions include Montjuic Hill, the Picasso Museum, Camp Nou Stadium, Las Ramblas, and the Gothic Quarter, which is a medieval city crowned by the more traditional Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar.

A great way to get around in Barcelona is to buy a two-day 19-Euro ticket for the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus, which has three loops covering all destinations in the city. For info on planning a trip, I'd suggest going to the website

Mike Quane is a travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at for over a decade.


  1. I have seen that basilica before. Astonishing that the work continues.

  2. One of the beautiful places I wanted to visit over and over again! Indeed, the Sagrada Familia is an exquisite and extraordinary architectural masterpiece that leads me to learn the basic culture and costume of Spanish people. The Gothic Quarter - magnificent!

    Miranda Farley

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