This building has been under construction since 1883, and Gaudí spent the last forty-three years of his life working on it. He spent his last twelve years working exclusively on this project; he even moved to live within the structure itself, as he had with other projects, to focus all of his time and energy on his passion.
Aside from the sheer size of Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, the main reason it has taken so long to complete is the resolve of the founding group, The Association of Devout Followers of St. Joseph, that the church be funded solely on donations. Due to this resolve, construction has come to a complete halt multiple times throughout the years. Gaudí even assisted with fund-raising activities when he was alive. What this means for visitors is that the entirety of your entrance fee is used to complete the building.
Upon entering, visitors see the Passion Facade of the temple as well as the current construction efforts on the naves:
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Passion facade is the sculptures. The facade was designed by Gaudí, but work was not begun on it until 1954. Unfortunately, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the church was the victim of a fire that destroyed practically all papers, drawings, and models that Gaudí had kept in his workshop on the premises. The job of designing the sculptures was left to J. M. Subirachs, and many complain that they are not in the same vein as Gaudí's work. People appear to either love them or hate them; his design is certainly a controversial one. Then again, Gaudí is a tough act to follow, and I imagine that imitating his work and falling short could draw even more criticism.
Visitors enter the structure through the Passion Facade doors; from here you can wait in line for an elevator that takes you up into the bell towers (we didn't opt for that as the lines were rather long and we were tired) or you can walk into the main area of the church. It is here where the sheer height of the building interior leaves you in awe.
Each of the columns within the church remind one of a tree with its sturdy trunk that splits into branches and ends with leaves. Gaudí said that the naves and vaults "will be like a forests". These columns provide support, which once again means that the outer walls are free for windows. This allows the church to be naturally lit from sunshine - not a very common thing amongst the old cathedrals and churches in Europe.
It is quite impossible to capture the sheer magnitude of the building in photos or words. One fact that I find a good basis upon which to measure the size of the place is that the choir, centrally located within the sanctuary as it is in most cathedrals, will one day hold 1,500 singers. That's a lot of seats, and that is only where the choir will sit. I imagine that when the temple is finally finished, there will be many thousands of people within its walls and that it still won't feel utterly cramped. It is huge.
The path through the construction leads everyone out to the Nativity facade. This is the side Gaudí completed. There is a striking difference between the sculptures of the Passion facade and those of the Nativity. The amount of detail is amazing; it is impossible to truly 'see' everything.
The four towers seen in the above photo are only four of what will one day be eighteen. One tower, covering the apse, will represent the virgin Mary. There will be four on each facade (twelve total) to represent the disciples. A little taller than those will be four to represent the evangelists. These four will surround the tallest tower (170 m) that will represent Jesus.
The Nativity facade is covered with sculptures representing the life of Christ. There are three vestibules: Faith, Hope and Charity. The Hope vestibule, shown above, contains sculptures of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, the flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents, amongst other things. The Faith vestibule contains sculptures of the visitation, Jesus amongst the priests at the temple and Jesus as a carpenter. The central vestibule shows the birth of Christ below the star from the east with the epiphany. This area includes angels announcing the birth with trumpets as well as the three wise men bearing gifts:
I have only covered the building in this post. There is an excellent museum in the church as well. This museum shows some of the (barely visible) drawings of Gaudí's that remained despite the fire...although I admit that there isn't a lot of detail visible on what is left. There is an excellent upside-down model of the temple complete with the little weighted bags that show where structural reinforcement is needed (for more on that, read about Casa Milà). There are a couple of places where one can view the current work on elements of the building, etc. It is fascinating.
Our favorite city that we have visited thus far is Barcelona, and among all of the wonderful places there to see, our favorites were those created by Gaudí. I cannot describe to you, though obviously I have tried, how amazing his creations are. If ever you have the opportunity to visit Barcelona, please do so, and make it a priority to visit and tour as many Gaudí buildings as possible. I cannot imagine that anyone would be disappointed.