1. Gaudí was not the first choice for the project lead architect
Sagrada would not be the same without the mad genius of Antoni Gaudí. Therefore, it's hard to imagine he was not the first architect asked to supervise the project. Initially, the official architect of the diocese, Don Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano took charge of the construction. He came up with his neo-gothic plans and the works began in 1882. Gaudí previously joined the team in 1883 as Villar's junior assistant. However, Villar barely managed to finish the crypt before he left the project because of disagreements with the Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph who mandated it. Gaudí became the lead architect of the Sagrada Familia project in 1884.
2. Gaudí knew he will not live to see the church complet
Since taking on the project, Gaudí was aware he will never be able to see Sagrada Família stand in all its glory. Therefore, he created impeccably detailed plans to make sure the construction could go on without him. To honor the fact that he was a small part of something greater than himself, he made it possible for the facades to be constructed individually. Here, every new generation of architects could give the church a touch of their own style that reflects the era.
3. Sagrada Família is a basilica, not a cathedral
Many people refer to Sagrada Família as a cathedral. However, that is not true. It's easy to make a mistake since its size and decor equals or surpasses one of a cathedral. The real cathedral in Barcelona is The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia on the gothic city center.
Sagrada Família was intended to be just a neighborhood church devoted to worship the holy family. It's Antoni Gaudí's vision that turned it into a unique piece of art. Thanks to its grandeur and popularity, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church to be a minor basilica in 2010.
4. Every Facade Narrates a Story
The Nativity Facade tells the story of Jesus' birth. It's the only one of three Gaudí finished himself. The eclectic elements and sculptures of this facade not only describe the early years of Jesus' life, they also depict many references to nature.
The Passion Facade is notably simpler in design and features the stages of Christ's crucifixion. Multiple architects worked on it respecting Gaudí's structural designs while giving it their own artistic touch.
The third one is the Glory Facade which is still in its early stages. Once completed, it will be the largest and most important of the three since it will give way to the Sagrada's central nave. Its construction only kicked off in 2002, so it's really not very far along. This facade is devoted to the glory of Jesus and his rise to heavens. Gaudí's rough sketches of the facade features a few general representations of death, final judgment, glory, and hell (warning for those that lose their path).
5. The Angles are Shaped by Gravity
Sagrada Família's column and tower angles were defined by nature. How? Gaudí constructed a model of the church using strings and weights. He outlined the foundations of the church on a wooden board, hung it on the ceiling and attached strings to the points where the columns should stand. Then, he weighed them down with small sacs of weight, attaching them strategically to the gravity-created arches created by the strings. Taking photographs of this model, Gaudí could calculate the nature-given angles of every column and arch. A copy of the string model hangs in the museum below the church.
6. Every Tower has its Meaning
Gaudí thought every aspect of the church through and through. Here, the towers, too, serve as symbols. When completed, Sagrada Familia will pride itself on 18 towers in total; 12 represent the 12 apostles, 4 represent the Evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary and, the tallest one in the middle, will represent Jesus. Nonetheless, so far there are only 8 towers standing
7. Gaudí cave it all!
The Basilica of Sagrada Família was Gaudí's life's work. It is not so just because he sent a year building it, but also because he had this project absolutely everything physically, mentally, as well as financially.
What's interesting, Gaudí was not at all a very religious man when he got started with the church. His faith grave deeper the more he studied the liturgy. When the construction run out of funding, Gaudi proposed to work without pay provided he had a complete artistic freedom. According to a rumor, he often tried to raise the funds himself in the streets of Barcelona. In the end, his professional, as well as a spiritual obsession with the church, overtook his everyday life. He slept in his workshop, barely shaved, shaved or ate. His appearance was so neglected that it took people three days to realize that the "homeless man" killed by a tram was the great Antoni Gaudí himself.
Nowadays, Sagrada Família is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as the most popular tourist attraction in Spain. With impressive three million visitors a year, it has surpassed the enchanting Alhambra in Granada and the Prado Museum in Madrid. So, if you are thinking of visiting, make sure you get your Sagrada Família tickets in advance!