La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Família: Work of a Genius or a Madman?

Last Updated on May 20, 2021

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La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Família: Work of a Genius or a Madman?

Last Updated on May 20, 2021

Share the love

“Genius or madman? Only time will tell.”

According to our tour guide, this was the response architect Antoni Gaudí received after expressing his initial plans for La Sagrada Família.

Personally, I’ve never subscribed to the restrictive “black or white” outlook on life and have always loathed the glass half empty or full debate. I tend to live my life in the large, gray expanse in between, where I believe most everything ultimately lies.

For this reason, I’ve decided not to place a label on La Sagrada Família. Instead, I’ll say it was a powerful experience that I’m fortunate to have had and wish to share with you here.

So without further adieu, I give you one of the most memorable experiences of my life in travel: La Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

Beware the Night Monster

I’ll never forget the first time I saw La Sagrada Família.

It was 8:30 at night after a long day of traveling.

Even though we had a tour of it scheduled for the next morning, my aunt and I couldn’t wait any longer. After all, it was only a few blocks from our hotel, and that’s what we came to Barcelona for anyway, right?

After going in circles for about ten minutes on some of the most confusing blocks I’ve ever seen – more to come on that later – I was really starting to doubt my sense of direction. Granted, I’d never been blessed with an internal GPS, but missing La Sagrada Família? That just seemed crazy to me.

Just as I was starting to think we’d have to give it up until morning, my aunt grabbed my arm so forcefully it was as though she’d been struck by lightening.

“There it is!”

It was more shrill than excited.

There was suddenly a chalk line running down the center of my life. On one side of the line was the old me, the me that was safe from La Sagrada Família. The other side was where I am now and will be for the rest of eternity – trying to erase the image of that first night.

I only wish I could have known. Maybe I could have prepared.

But then again, I sort of did know…

Before we arrived in Barcelona, my aunt shared a troubling discovery from Yelp. It was a review from a disgruntled woman who complained that her stay was spoiled by the large, hideous monstrosity that loomed over Barcelona at night.

At the time, we just shook our heads at the woman’s obvious ignorance and I thought to myself: “Everyone’s a critic!”

So I guess I had been warned, in a way.

But even so, no Yelp reviews, guide books, Instagram photos, or documentaries could have ever prepared me for the beast that was the Sagrada.

There it was. Bold and bare and utterly unapologetic. Defiant, even. Like a child running naked on the beach and laughing.

The big famous La Sagrada Família. The monument of Barcelona. The thing that people flock from across the globe to see.

It was…dare I say…ugly?

No, that wasn’t it. I couldn’t just file it away into the ugly folder and move on with it. It was so much more than that. Ugly undermines it somehow, as though it were an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The thing that loomed before me was anything but a victim. It was actively menacing. It knew what it was doing. Heck, it was downright aggressive.

I wanted to look away, but somehow I couldn’t. I just stared at it, transfixed, trying to understand its power over me.

And it stared back even harder. Its window-slit eyes bore holes in my soul. I felt all the hairs on my arms stand on end, as if I was in the presence of a ghost. I twisted my face at it as though to express my displeasure.

I felt it laugh at me.

Sure, it sounds dramatic, but that’s only because it was.

I tried to capture a glimpse of its ominous quality, but it gets a bit lost in translation. But just to give you a basic sense…

I’ve never been possessed before, but I imagine this is a lot like what it would feel like.

But there was no going back. I needed to face the harsh, unfair, and undeniable truth that was rooted there before my eyes.

I was afraid of La Sagrada Família.

Me.

The girl who runs to the theater at the mere mention of a new horror film release. The girl who paid to see a six-hour Saw marathon in theaters and who secretly wished her house was haunted.

I don’t know if it was the skulls, the creepy slit window-eyes that lined the towers, or the sheer, hideous size of it, but that building creeped me the f out.

Needless to say, it was a nightmare-filled evening. I dreamt I had to go back there. And when morning came, I actually did.

Let There Be Light

I won’t lie, I had butterflies in my stomach throughout breakfast the next day, just knowing it was almost time for the tour.

But to my surprise, it wasn’t the same beast by daylight as it was in the night.

Did you ever find that the more you understand something, the less scary it becomes? Like somehow if you can make sense out of something foreign it starts to feel more comfortable?

That’s exactly how this was.

In fact, as our guide led us inside, it was like angels were released from within. The lights, the music, and the sheer splendor of the ceiling enveloped me. I felt strangely hypnotized. As he walked us through this magnificently strange building and pointed out the details, I began to find myself…falling in love with it.

Nothing in the design was random. Every inch was planned and plotted.

I especially loved learning about the significance of light and color and how certain areas would receive sunlight at specific points throughout the day to signify different religious events.

Or that Gaudí had an unflinching respect for the work of God, stating that none of God’s creations should be superseded by man. This is why La Sagrada Família  stands a few meters below Montjuïc, the highest point in Barcelona, at 172.5 meters tall.

The more I knew, the more I wanted to know. And the more I learned, the more beautiful Gaudí’s creation became.

Here’s a sneak peak of the beauty…

If somehow I haven’t lost you after the first grim encounter and you’re even just a little interested to experience the magic for yourself, here’s a couple of pointers to keep in mind for visiting…

It Will Be Crowded

I actually did the first tour of the day in the off-season and it was super crowded. So in case you’re wondering why there are so few pictures in this blog, that’s why.

It was incredibly challenging to get a decent shot of myself without sixty other people sticking their heads in the frame.

A poor attempt to get a photo with the crowds...

So don’t expect to take the world’s best photos – just let yourself take it all in.

Book Tickets in Advance

If you’ve done even a blip of research on La Sagrada Família, then you already know the importance of buying tickets in advance.

Trust me when I say, telling people they’ll get shut out is not just a ploy to sell more tickets. It really is that popular and it will absolutely sell out.

I bought my tickets a month in advance and that was the perfect amount of time, so I suggest you do the same.

Avoid the Towers if You’re Claustrophobic

If you wish to go up to the towers but you’re not sure if you’re claustrophobic, I highly suggest figuring that out prior to visiting.

That’s because there is one, I repeat, one elevator that goes up to the towers but will not take you down. In order to get down, you’ll need to descend four-hundred steps of a winding, narrow, windowless staircase.

When you’re in the one elevator going up to the top, they’ll ask you if you’re claustrophobic and explain the deal. If the tight staircase is a deal breaker for you, I highly suggest you make that call now, before wasting your time.

I personally have no issue with small spaces, but I ended up skipping the towers out of respect for my aunt who was not feeling the tight winding staircase.

I only wish the website had told us this ahead of time, as in, before we got to the top and had to come right back down, which is why I’m letting you know now.

Other than that, I can’t recommend a tour enough.

And I say this as someone who was originally weak in the knees looking at this thing.

Do be aware that construction is anticipated until 2026, which will be one hundred years after Gaudí’s death. So if you’d like to see it in its full glory (i.e. without a bunch of cranes next to it), plan a trip for then.

Some Final Thoughts

The moral of the story?

Don’t judge architecture by its cover, which, in this case, is the deceptive veil of nightfall.

And as for the question of Gaudí being a genius or a madman, it’s truly all subjective.

But I like to think the answer lies somewhere in the middle…

Did you find this post useful? Don’t forget to pin it to your boards for later!

“Genius or madman? Only time will tell.”

According to our tour guide, this was the response architect Antoni Gaudí received after expressing his initial plans for La Sagrada Família.

Personally, I’ve never subscribed to the restrictive “black or white” outlook on life and have always loathed the glass half empty or full debate. I tend to live my life in the large, gray expanse in between, where I believe most everything ultimately lies.

For this reason, I’ve decided not to place a label on La Sagrada Família. Instead, I’ll say it was a powerful experience that I’m fortunate to have had and wish to share with you here.

So without further adieu, I give you one of the most memorable experiences of my life in travel: La Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

Beware the Night Monster

I’ll never forget the first time I saw La Sagrada Família.

It was 8:30 at night after a long day of traveling.

Even though we had a tour of it scheduled for the next morning, my aunt and I couldn’t wait any longer. After all, it was only a few blocks from our hotel, and that’s what we came to Barcelona for anyway, right?

After going in circles for about ten minutes on some of the most confusing blocks I’ve ever seen – more to come on that later – I was really starting to doubt my sense of direction. Granted, I’d never been blessed with an internal GPS, but missing La Sagrada Família? That just seemed crazy to me.

Just as I was starting to think we’d have to give it up until morning, my aunt grabbed my arm so forcefully it was as though she’d been struck by lightening.

“There it is!”

It was more shrill than excited.

There was suddenly a chalk line running down the center of my life. On one side of the line was the old me, the me that was safe from La Sagrada Família. The other side was where I am now and will be for the rest of eternity – trying to erase the image of that first night.

I only wish I could have known. Maybe I could have prepared.

But then again, I sort of did know…

Before we arrived in Barcelona, my aunt shared a troubling discovery from Yelp. It was a review from a disgruntled woman who complained that her stay was spoiled by the large, hideous monstrosity that loomed over Barcelona at night.

At the time, we just shook our heads at the woman’s obvious ignorance and I thought to myself: “Everyone’s a critic!”

So I guess I had been warned, in a way.

But even so, no Yelp reviews, guide books, Instagram photos, or documentaries could have ever prepared me for the beast that was the Sagrada.

There it was. Bold and bare and utterly unapologetic. Defiant, even. Like a child running naked on the beach and laughing.

The big famous La Sagrada Família. The monument of Barcelona. The thing that people flock from across the globe to see.

It was…dare I say…ugly?

No, that wasn’t it. I couldn’t just file it away into the ugly folder and move on with it. It was so much more than that. Ugly undermines it somehow, as though it were an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The thing that loomed before me was anything but a victim. It was actively menacing. It knew what it was doing. Heck, it was downright aggressive.

I wanted to look away, but somehow I couldn’t. I just stared at it, transfixed, trying to understand its power over me.

And it stared back even harder. Its window-slit eyes bore holes in my soul. I felt all the hairs on my arms stand on end, as if I was in the presence of a ghost. I twisted my face at it as though to express my displeasure.

I felt it laugh at me.

Sure, it sounds dramatic, but that’s only because it was.

I tried to capture a glimpse of its ominous quality, but it gets a bit lost in translation. But just to give you a basic sense…

I’ve never been possessed before, but I imagine this is a lot like what it would feel like.

But there was no going back. I needed to face the harsh, unfair, and undeniable truth that was rooted there before my eyes.

I was afraid of La Sagrada Família.

Me.

The girl who runs to the theater at the mere mention of a new horror film release. The girl who paid to see a six-hour Saw marathon in theaters and who secretly wished her house was haunted.

I don’t know if it was the skulls, the creepy slit window-eyes that lined the towers, or the sheer, hideous size of it, but that building creeped me the f out.

Needless to say, it was a nightmare-filled evening. I dreamt I had to go back there. And when morning came, I actually did.

Let There Be Light

I won’t lie, I had butterflies in my stomach throughout breakfast the next day, just knowing it was almost time for the tour.

But to my surprise, it wasn’t the same beast by daylight as it was in the night.

Did you ever find that the more you understand something, the less scary it becomes? Like somehow if you can make sense out of something foreign it starts to feel more comfortable?

That’s exactly how this was.

In fact, as our guide led us inside, it was like angels were released from within. The lights, the music, and the sheer splendor of the ceiling enveloped me. I felt strangely hypnotized. As he walked us through this magnificently strange building and pointed out the details, I began to find myself…falling in love with it.

Nothing in the design was random. Every inch was planned and plotted.

I especially loved learning about the significance of light and color and how certain areas would receive sunlight at specific points throughout the day to signify different religious events.

Or that Gaudí had an unflinching respect for the work of God, stating that none of God’s creations should be superseded by man. This is why La Sagrada Família  stands a few meters below Montjuïc, the highest point in Barcelona, at 172.5 meters tall.

The more I knew, the more I wanted to know. And the more I learned, the more beautiful Gaudí’s creation became.

Here’s a sneak peak of the beauty…

If somehow I haven’t lost you after the first grim encounter and you’re even just a little interested to experience the magic for yourself, here’s a couple of pointers to keep in mind for visiting…

It Will Be Crowded

I actually did the first tour of the day in the off-season and it was super crowded. So in case you’re wondering why there are so few pictures in this blog, that’s why.

It was incredibly challenging to get a decent shot of myself without sixty other people sticking their heads in the frame.

A poor attempt to get a photo with the crowds...

So don’t expect to take the world’s best photos – just let yourself take it all in.

Book Tickets in Advance

If you’ve done even a blip of research on La Sagrada Família, then you already know the importance of buying tickets in advance.

Trust me when I say, telling people they’ll get shut out is not just a ploy to sell more tickets. It really is that popular and it will absolutely sell out.

I bought my tickets a month in advance and that was the perfect amount of time, so I suggest you do the same.

Avoid the Towers if You’re Claustrophobic

If you wish to go up to the towers but you’re not sure if you’re claustrophobic, I highly suggest figuring that out prior to visiting.

That’s because there is one, I repeat, one elevator that goes up to the towers but will not take you down. In order to get down, you’ll need to descend four-hundred steps of a winding, narrow, windowless staircase.

When you’re in the one elevator going up to the top, they’ll ask you if you’re claustrophobic and explain the deal. If the tight staircase is a deal breaker for you, I highly suggest you make that call now, before wasting your time.

I personally have no issue with small spaces, but I ended up skipping the towers out of respect for my aunt who was not feeling the tight winding staircase.

I only wish the website had told us this ahead of time, as in, before we got to the top and had to come right back down, which is why I’m letting you know now.

Other than that, I can’t recommend a tour enough.

And I say this as someone who was originally weak in the knees looking at this thing.

Do be aware that construction is anticipated until 2026, which will be one hundred years after Gaudí’s death. So if you’d like to see it in its full glory (i.e. without a bunch of cranes next to it), plan a trip for then.

Some Final Thoughts

The moral of the story?

Don’t judge architecture by its cover, which, in this case, is the deceptive veil of nightfall.

And as for the question of Gaudí being a genius or a madman, it’s truly all subjective.

But I like to think the answer lies somewhere in the middle…

Did you find this post useful? Don’t forget to pin it to your boards for later!