There is no other house of worship on earth quite like Barcelona, Spain’s towering Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Antoni Gaudi’s masterwork. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has raised the eyebrows of art critics and inspired millions of visitors. Here are some fascinating facts about it that might surprise you:
- They’ve been building it for 136 years. Its current estimated completion date? 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
- When asked why the building was taking so long, Gaudi replied, “My client isn’t in a hurry.”
- By the end of his life, when Gaudi worked on nothing else, he was dressing in rags instead of buying new clothes, so that all his income could go the project, which was being funded entirely by donations.
- At the Paris Exhibition of 1910, crowds formed long lines to view the plaster model of the building in progress, which then included stone cherubim with wind-propelled wings that would ring bells.
- The interior pillars start square as the base, become octagonal, then circular, before transforming into tree-like limbs interlaced at ceiling height, to emphasis that nature is elevated over the handiwork of man.
- The existing completed towers each bear words that together spell out a Latin prayer. When told that no one could read the script, Gaudi replied, “The angels can.”
- The cathedral has its critics and its fans: George Orwell called it hideous and Pablo Picasso said it was a monstrosity, but Salvador Dali declared it “as sensual as a woman’s skin.”
- Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War didn’t dare destroy the beloved building, so they destroyed all the renderings and models to make it impossible to finish.
- A computer whiz in the 1980s took scraps of remaining plans, handwritten notes by Gaudi, and photos of the existing construction to solve the puzzle of what the rest was intended to look like, speeding up construction.