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Secrets of Barcelona’s Most Beautiful Church: Gaudi's Masterpiece

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Finally, after nearly 150 years, Antoni Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Família church in Barcelona is nearing completion. The sprawling Art Nouveau basilica has been under construction since Gaudí took over the project in 1883 — and it’s been another 90 years since he passed away. But now an end date is in sight: The project is on track to be finished in 2026, conveniently coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

The evolution of the unusual-looking church has been fraught with drama since the first stone was laid in 1882 by original architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, who envisioned a pretty standard Neo-Gothic structure. After only a year, though, he quit the job, allegedly frustrated by disagreements with the project’s promoters. Gaudí was selected to take over, and he quickly changed up the design, opting for an unconventional cross between Art Nouveau, Gothic, and organic influences.

As the years passed, Gaudí became more and more focused on the Sagrada Família, eventually giving up all his other commissions to work solely on this one. Even so, construction moved at a snail’s pace — leading Gaudí to joke about his celestial boss, “My client is not in a hurry.”

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Then tragedy struck: In 1926, Gaudí was killed by a tram. He was 73 years old and at that time only about a quarter of the church was completed, including the famous Nativity façade, the crypt, some school buildings, and one bell tower.

Yes, he had designs and 3-D scale models for most of the rest of the building, but he was renowned for deviating from blueprints and making changes on the spot, so no one really knew exactly what he had planned. Making matters worse, a lot of those plans, drawings, photographs, and models were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, when anarchists set fire to part of the church and burned down his studio workshop there.

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In the years since, the Sagrada Família project has changed hands several times, sometimes going slowly, sometimes speeding up, and sometimes causing controversy, like in 2008 when a group of artists criticized it for deviating from Gaudí’s vision, or when the city built a high-speed train tunnel under the church in the early 2010s. There have also been exciting developments from time to time, as when it was named UNESCO World Heritage Site and when Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church in 2010.

But the biggest news of modern times arrived just recently: Current head architect, Jordi Fauli, has announced that the Sagrada Família will finally be finished in 2026.

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Once completed, the religious structure will include 18 towers dedicated to religious figures. Six of those spires will be added to the church in this final phase — one for each of the evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary, and one for Jesus. The addition of the Tower of Jesus Christ will make the Sagrada Família the tallest religious building in Europe.

A couple of time-lapse videos and animations published on YouTube by the Sagrada Familia Foundation show the anticipated construction process, as well as 3-D renderings of the finished product.

The result will be stunning — not that anyone expected anything less. More than three million people already visit the site each year, and that number will certainly grow, as will opinions about whether the final product matches Gaudí’s original intentions.

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