I suppose some of you would ask, why Barcelona? Why not go somewhere else? Like Prague or Greece or Sweden?
You know, I have always wanted to come to Barcelona since… since my time in Liverpool. I went on a 14 days Europe Tour, but the tour did not go into Barcelona because, well, Spain is very out of the ways for any tour bus to want to go there. And because I had limited funds (I was a one semester student back then), I had to give up any plans of going there on a separate trip on my own.
So I guess this was just me trying to fulfill an unfulfilled wish of mine.
But what is it that specifically made me want to come to Barcelona? Well… merely this incomplete basilica…
Full name: Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family. The full name is a handful to pronounce and to write, so this church is more commonly known as The Sagrada Familia.
This is currently the blog post that has the largest picture count in my blog so far. I have another 49 (originally 70). I’ve tested by loading the page on my phone, loading the full page eats up about 10MB of data. So I’m hiding the rest of the post. If you are reading using your smartphone/iPad and using 10MB of data is a concern for you, you should go somewhere with wifi or go look for a computer or… I don’t know, skip this post?
As this basilica was the single most important reason why I decided to come to Barcelona, I figured I should come here as soon as possible. So when I purchased my ticket online, I made sure to select the correct date, on the next day after I arrive (because I would be too tired on the day I arrive), and that’s Day 5 of my trip.
You should always purchase Sagrada Familia your tickets online. Because the ticket queue is always long. Very long. It would waste you a couple hours of precious time, and trust me, you really don’t want that.
The basic ticket costs 15€ (2016 price) and allows you entrance into the Basilica. And then there are a few other “value added” options where you pay more to get more “benefits”. And of course there are various discounts for big groups, students and the elderly. Kids below 11 years old and disabled persons get to enter for free.
One thing to note though, is that when you purchase your tickets, they let you choose your preferred date and time of entrance. The time is a 15 minutes slot, eg. 10.00 – 10.15, 10.15 – 10.30 and so on. Your tickets are only good for the exact date and time slot that you selected during purchase. If, you bought a ticket for, say, 27th March 10.00 – 10.15, you will only be allowed to enter on the 27th March, and only between 10.00 to 10.15 AM. If you’re early, then you wait. But if you’re late, then… the entrance personnel told me your tickets will be void, I’m not sure if there is any troublesome and elaborate way to get a refund or replace the tickets with a later timed ones.
Of course, once you have entered, you can stay in there for as long as you like…
Me? I took the 29€ package: Basilica entrance + audio guide + entrance to one out of the two sets of towers (Passion or Nativity). I thought since this is one of those rare buildings that I would happily part with my hard earned cash to enter, might as well pay more to make the experience more… enjoyable. My entrance time slot was a Thursday 10.30 – 10.45. I could’ve picked an earlier time slot, they open from 9.00 AM, but I thought I was not familiar with the area and I might want some time buffer.
I was glad that I got the package with audio guide. Well, it was for most parts, information overload listening to those audio clips over the earphone, but at least it allowed me to grasp key information on the different spots around the basilica. Most of what I tell you next are what I remember from the audio guide.
One of the most famous features of the Sagrada Familia are that two sets of four towers. They’re called the Nativity Towers and the Passion Towers. I always thought they represent the front and back of the basilica, but turns out they’re actually the sides. The visitor entrance is located on the Nativity side, so upon entrance and getting the audio guide piece, first thing we see is this…
Just beneath the towers is what they call the Nativity Facade. Here you can find statue carvings depicting the first half of the Jesus story: birth of Jesus, the three wise men, Jesus growing up, Jesus preaching…
There’s A LOT of people here taking photos of the various parts of the Facade. Were I a devout Christian, I would’ve probably done the same. But I’m not, so I got a couple shots and headed straight into the basilica proper…
Although this basilica is still incomplete (scheduled for completion in 2026), most of the remaining works are outside. The interior is more or less ready and is open to the public. In fact, you can do your mass here (or prayers or whatever it is the Christians do in church), provided that you do not care about being surrounded by tourists.
You may be wondering why an incomplete church could be so famous worldwide, drawing in millions of visitors every year. So here’s a few facts:
- The Sagrada Familia is probably the most elaborate architecture work of Antoni Gaudi, sometimes known as the genius of architecture. #TrueStory
- Construction began on 1882. With the projected completion date of 2026, this basilica would’ve taken over 140 years to complete.
- When Gaudi died in 1926, the basilica was only 20-25% complete. And then during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Gaudi’s workshop was destroyed, together with his model of the complete basilica.
- Which is why the basilica as it is now takes so long to complete, between insufficient funding, wars, and Gaudi’s successors trying to reverse engineer and predict his intended original design.
For all we know, what we are getting now might not even be what Gaudi originally had in mind. 🙄
Here’s more shots of the basilica’s interior…
I think there’s a specific name for these [church’s colored windows]. Can’t remember what’s it called??
Remember I said the towers are actually on the sides of the basilica? How did I know? Because according to the audio guide, the picture below, this is where the intended front entrance is supposed to be. It is now sealed off. Apparently, they will open this door when the entire church’s construction is complete and officially open to the public in full.
Okay, now I’m going to bring you up the towers. There’s two sets of towers like I mentioned earlier: the Nativity Towers and the Passion Towers. Actually, right now, a third set of towers and facade is being constructed. When the church is finally complete, there will also be the Glory Towers and Facade, which is supposed to depict Jesus’ ascension to Heaven, and the path to God. Or something like that. There’s a lot of Biblical references which the audio guide mentioned and I could not make any sense of.
Anyway, with my 29€ ticket, I got to choose either one of the two. So I went with my gut feeling and chose to go up the Nativity Towers.
I’m glad that I’m a 21st century person and visited this place in 2016. If I was a visitor in, say, 1966, I would have to climb the stairs all the way up. As it is now,
The lift takes you up almost to the
top highest point where you’re allowed to go. Once you got out of the lift, you’d have to climb a few level of narrow stairs…
Where to? If you noticed in the earlier picture, there’s four towers. The middle two is connected by a bridge. That’s where we get to go to. The lift takes us close to the bridge, then we cross the bridge, and descent through the stairs, all the way back to ground level. The lift only takes you up, you have to get back down all the way with those narrow stairs.
You don’t have to worry about being alone up there. The stairways and bridge are so narrow that only one person can fit through at a time. In fact, the only thing you might be able to feel up here is sometimes frustration, when the people in front of you takes too long with their selfies at any particular point of interest throughout the descent.
Midway through descending, there’s a few spots where you get some sort of a mini balcony or something. You might think here’s where you can do some overtaking if you want to, but… the thing is, when people see these balconies, the only thing we feel is intrigue.
I thought it was worth paying extra to come up these towers. I mean, yeah… the stairs are narrow and uncomfortable, but the views are quite interesting. Especially if you are an architecture freak, you will be able to see stuff that you won’t be able to by standing down there at ground level.
And then I reached the lower parts of the towers. This was quite close to the exit at ground level already. Suddenly I began to see…
It’s a bit… disconcerting, and I’m wondering what Gaudi would think of his masterpiece being “decorated” by marker pen scribbling. I’m betting he would be rolling in his grave if he had any way of knowing this.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally reached the door. I opened up and was shocked to see a man just walked pass me. The opening door almost crashed into him! 😐
I mean, if you are one of those who opted out of going up the tower, you would never have guessed where the exit doors from the tower are.
I noticed a few more similar looking doors, so I’m guessing… there isn’t just one exit from the towers. Each tower has it’s own exit at ground floor.
Anyway, I’ve seen enough of the insides, and I’ve done the towers, time to get out on the other side and see the Passion Facade.
Have I mentioned that the Passion Facade is the second half of the Jesus story? Here, it is all statues and carvings that depict the sufferings of Jesus: Judas’ betrayal, Pontius Pilate, the flogging by Roman soldiers, the crucifixion, etc.
If I thought the crowd at the Nativity Facade was crazy, I was wrong…
I suppose it is understandable. Most of the visitors here are probably not Christians, like me. No offence, but for us, the story of Jesus being betrayed and killed is probably much more interesting compared to Jesus being born and growing up.
I thought this was it. I noticed to exit gates on this Passion side of the basilica. I would’ve went to the gates and got out. After all, it has been almost 3 hours since I entered, and I thought it was enough.
But… 人有三急, my bladder was in need of some reprieve, so I went looking for toilet…
And I found the toilet. And I relieved myself. And when I was leaving the toilet, instead of going back outside, I noticed a door going back into the church on the Lower Ground floor. There wasn’t any signboard telling me where I was, but I saw people going in and coming out. So I went in for a peek.
Turns out, it was a museum. A museum of Gaudi’s work with this basilica and also a bit of information of his other works.
That’s not all… next to the oldies exhibits, I also discovered a room with exhibits that describe the nature of Gaudi’s architecture. Well, apparently, Gaudi is a person very attuned to nature, so the nature of his architecture is, well… very attuned to nature.
I can’t believe it. This museum covered almost the entire Lower Ground floor! And you know what, it exits near where I entered to the inside of the basilica, near the Nativity Facade. Actually, I think it’s not so much as entrance/exit. There’s just 2 access points to the museum, and on both sides… no signboards!
I’m serious. I think I covered pretty much the entire basilica. Not once did I notice any signboards indicating the existence of this museum. Maybe they did have signboards telling people where the museum is, but if I failed to notice them, most likely many visitors would fail to notice them.
So here’s a tip: if you are visiting the Sagrada Familia, there’s an entire Lower Ground floor worth of museum exhibits. Look for the doors to get there. Don’t miss it!
Okay back to my story. As I exited the museum, I noticed two machines that sell souvenir coins.
Here’s where I had another bad experience with China Chinese tourists. Man I really hate some of them…
See, I wanted buy a few of these coins as souvenir. I spotted a few of them Chinese tourists staring at the machines. I guess they did not know how to operate the machines. When they saw me, they stepped aside and gestured for me to go first. That’s fine. I’ll get my coins and maybe show them how to do it.
Or so I thought. I got one souvenir coin, and they got the procedure that they wanted. You know what happened next? Instead of waiting for another 30 seconds for me to get a few more souvenir coins (each coin takes literally 5 seconds to vend), they came over and pushed me aside so that they get to use the machines now.
Fine! I’ve heard of the notoriety of these Chinese tourists before. I thought they might not be capable of waiting patiently, but I could. So, frustrated as I was, I wandered around and tried to wait them out.
Except, the two guys who pushed me away did not have enough Euros with them. So they delegated one of them to go look for others comrades with cash. Throughout that few minutes while waiting for their comrades, they just stood in front of the machines, hogging them without doing anything, and not allowing other tourists access.
And then the comrades did come. I mean, the comrades descended upon us. There must be at least twenty of them, all loaded with Euros, making lots of noise and turning the entire area into chaos.
Half amused and half fuming, I decided against waiting and left. Which is why instead of a few souvenir coins, I only had one. 🙄
I’m sorry that I’m nearing the end of this blog post, so I kind of ended this post with a frustrated rant. But… it is what it is. I’m just writing things in a chronological manner…
After I go out of the museum, I gave the entire basilica area another proper scrutiny. Except for a souvenir shop, I did not notice any other hidden chambers or rooms or whatnot. So it was finally time to leave…
Here’s another interesting structure. It is located right next to the exit gates…
I mean, the workshop is a replica of the original workshop, but the location is the same. It was on the same spot where Gaudi had his temporary workshop erected.
Unfortunately, even as a replica, it was not open for public viewing.
So after close to four hours, I exited the Sagrada Familia. For good.
Adios, Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. It has been an interesting morning. I’m glad I came. No regrets overall…