Did you know there’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that isn’t even finished yet? Many churches in Europe are World Heritage Sites… but most of them are hundreds, even a thousand years old. Only one of them is still under construction! And recently, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia just achieved another milestone in its journey towards completion.
The idea of a work-in-progress UNESCO World Heritage Site runs counter to our concept of World Heritage buildings that reflect long history as well as exceptional vision and craftsmanship. We imagine them to have been part of the fabric of their culture for aeons.
The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia isn’t finished yet – but it already stands out as the most iconic monument in Barcelona. The city is known for its rich cultural tapestry and historical landmarks – especially as a magnet for those fascinated by the unique approach to Modernist architecture of its most famous son, Antoni Gaudi, who designed Sagrada Familia.
The genius Catalan architect’s unique approach to architecture and design in the late 19th and early 20th century shaped Barcelona, and entire tours are devoted to visiting Gaudi landmarks in the city.
Sagrada Familia was his masterpiece: a fusion of Gothic and Art Nouveau forms, with inspiration drawn from Nature. Its soaring towers are reminiscent of medieval cathedrals, while the intricate façades and interiors, laden with organic motifs and sinuous lines, echo the fluidity and intricacy of the natural world. From its vast, forest-like columns to its meticulously crafted facades depicting the Nativity, Passion, and Glory of Christ, every detail of the basilica tells a story in a visual kaleidoscope of shapes and forms.
Gaudi himself died an untimely death in 1926 with just about 10% of the building complete. His tomb lies beneath the cathedral. Miraculously, despite the Spanish Civil War’s destruction of many of Gaudi’s drawings and models of the church, construction continued, fueled by donations and the determination of those who revered the architect's vision.
Now, defying the odds, Sagrada Familia nears completion. Over 140 years after construction began in 1882, the cathedral’s five central towers are finally finished.
Gaudi’s design for the epic structure included 18 immense, fantastical spindle-shaped towers. Each symbolized a different biblical figure, including the 12 apostles, the four evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus.
In early October, 2023, church officials announced that the final sculptural pieces were added to the towers of evangelists Matthew and John.
The final tower, representing Jesus, is expected to be finished in 2026. The last part of the cathedral under construction, it will be 566 feet in height, topped by a 56-foot cross, according to cathedral authorities. At that point, when it’s complete, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church on the planet.
The world hasn’t waited for final architectural touches to celebrate and recognize Gaudi’s wondrous masterpiece. Already in 1984, it was, along with other Gaudi designs in Barcelona, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And in 2010, the pope consecrated Sagrada Familia as a place of worship.
As the 100th anniversary of his death approaches in 2026, Gaudi’s successors in building Sagrada Familia are pushing to have his vision complete.
Sagrada Familia is already the global icon for Barcelona, and a symbol of the evolving nature of artistic expression, spirituality, and tenacity. We visit and read about cathedrals that took thousands of artists, craftspeople and supporters centuries to build, but this may be the last epochal Christian monument the world will see born in our lifetime.
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