Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Cathedral, is nearing completion. Of course, it depends on what is considered to be the near end. But after more than a century of construction it is closer to him than further away.

Two million people visit the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona every year. Thanks to constant pilgrimages, the temple is enriched with 20 million Euros of admission tickets every year. However, this is still not enough to bring to an end the "crazy dream", the most outstanding work of Antonio Gaudi.

The Sagrada Familia wouldn't have been created at all. The originator of the project (it was not Gaudi at all, but the bookseller José Maria Bocabella, founder of the Spiritual Society of St. Joseph's followers) decided that a temple similar to the cathedral in Italian Loreto would be built with public contributions. It was to be built in the city centre, but the countess died unexpectedly and promised to donate a plot of land for this purpose. The new location was found on the outskirts of Barcelona at that time.
Bocabella then declared that he was giving up building a church. Gaudi, who began his work in 1884, took over the baton. He made one condition: no one would impose any ideas on him. The Sagrada Familia is to be built according to his design. The architect, who in time became world-famous, dedicated 40 years of his life to his greatest work. He did not take any fees for it. Critics considered the project to be crazy and super-avant-garde. Gaudi was indeed ahead of his time, creating eclectic buildings that could not be attributed to any style. They are dominated by rich and colourful Art Nouveau ornamentation, but in each of them one can find Baroque, Classicist and even Gothic elements. It was in the project of the Sagrada Familia cathedral that the artist let his imagination run wild, irritating those who did not understand his contemporary art.
No wonder that in 1926, after Gaudi's tragic death (the architect died under the wheels of a tram), newspapers were screaming: it was time to finish this compromising investment. It has nothing to do with real architecture. Today no one would ever think about criticising Gaudi's work. On the contrary, it is unanimously recognised as one of the flagship examples of European architecture at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Barcelonaers working to support construction have created a great social movement and are becoming more and more dedicated. Recently, 3,500 families have voluntarily taxed themselves on behalf of the foundation - they pay 36 euros a month to the temple. In return, they were granted the symbolic right to visit the temple without a ticket.
Many people decide to save the entire - sometimes substantial - property of the Sagrada Familia Foundation (since 1979 all donations to the temple are exempt from tax). Fabia Matas and Subietas, the director of the foundation, takes over tenement houses, houses and entire libraries. She has the biggest problem with graves. She spreads her hands helplessly: - What can you do with a tomb that you get inherited?
Apart from native Barcelonaers, the biggest donors are tourists. The entrance ticket to the cathedral costs a lot, because it costs eight euros. The tour lasts at least two hours, and on the route of tourists tempting souvenir ceramics a` la Gaudi, books and T-shirts. From the inside of the temple you can send a postcard with a decorative stamp, eat ice cream, sandwich or something to drink. There is also an elevator that can be driven up to the eighth floor for 1.5 euros.

- Every tourist leaves at least 10 euros during the tour," says Fabia Matas and Subietas.

It is also thanks to this money that the construction process has gained momentum in recent years. And the progress of the works is visible to the naked eye.

- For a year now, for the first time in the history of building a temple, the works have been carried out simultaneously on all possible sections. It's no quicker than that," says Jordi Bonet, Sagrada's chief architect, proudly.
Thanks to donations that have been received for more than a century, eight of the planned twelve hundred-metre-high belfries of the cathedral can be admired. Finishing work is underway on the second façade, and more chapels are being built in parallel. The advancement of finishing works is estimated at 55%. However, the most difficult elements await the construction: the central 170-metre high tower of Honor of Jesus, 125-metre high tower of the Virgin Mary and the towers of four evangelists. According to the constructors, the first mass in the fully roofed Sagrada will be celebrated in 2007. However, this does not mean that the construction will be completed - it will take at least two decades to complete. At the beginning of the 20th century, when the works were supervised by Gaudi himself, the construction of Sagrada was no different from the construction of medieval temples. Stone blocks of flats were pulled by oxen. The stones were broken by hand.

Today, the construction site is dominated by modern technology. After two years of trials, a unique machine was put into service, cutting out the sophisticated stone tops of columns and towers. The machine is controlled by a computer, which first creates a three-dimensional design of the elements. Diamond saws cut the stone with watchmaking accuracy. A method of inserting characteristic colorful tops on tops of towers, each 3.5 meters high, has been developed.
Now, the most important thing is to design the highest 170-metre tower in detail, because Gaudi left only the general sketches of the tower. He made all the plans hot and, worse still, most of the sketches burned down during the Spanish Civil War. Today, architects use computer programs to reconstruct the tower's plans.

They assure you it will look as if they were invented 121 years ago.
Of course, they mean external appearance. Because inside there will be devices that the Catalan master of architecture never dreamt of: a fast elevator, a modern heating and ventilation system. Of course, everything is in accordance with the safety standards in force today.
Gaudi rushed by the city's rulers in the first half of the twentieth century retorted: "The host of this place can wait peacefully. He is in no hurry at all. Now, looking at the towers and bigger and bigger, already finished fragments of the cathedral of his dreams, he could say: thank God, it's almost over.
30/07/2005     Redakcja
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