I first saw the Cathedral of the Sacred Family about 14 years ago. I remember that I just walked around it staring at the exterior in complete amazement. When Rowshan and I visited it this trip we also walked around it in complete amazement. They have done a lot in 14 years but it still isn't finished. In 1994 they had the Nativity side finished but were working on the towers on the Passion side. The cathedral felt compact but very tall. Now there was a new part jutting out to one side, its white stone bright next to the old sections where the stone had weathered to a golden color.
The Nativity side, which had been created while Gaudi was still alive, is a riotous wall of life.
It is as if all nature, trees and rock included, and humankind flew onto the side of the cathedral to celebrate the birth of Jesus. There are flowers, lizards, snakes, frogs, and chickens as well as the traditional donkeys and sheep.
In the museum it was written that Gaudi had used the animals wandering onto the cathedral site as models. The 2 entrance pillars are supported on the backs of a sea and land turtle.
The structure of the cathedral has windows and some vaults that look like a Gothic cathedral but other characteristics are pure Gaudi: the tall towers like fir trees and the mosaic pin wheels on the top. The current entrance is on the opposite side, the Passion. This side is comparatively stark and sombre.
Instead of traditional columns, column like structures swoop from the ground to the cathedral face creating an open but protected area like a cave. The wall has clusters of geometric, cubist inspired sculptures by the artist Subirachs.
The transition from the organic Nativity to the stark passion is a bit of a shock but as I began examining the different sculptures, I was struck by their appropriateness as well as how powerful they are. The scenes include The Last Supper, Peter's Denial of Christ, the Scourging and Crown of Thorns, and Judas' Betrayal with the Roman soldiers hiding behind a tree-like column. The central scene is Veronika holding the veil she had wiped Christ's face with with the impression remaining in it and Jesus stumbling under the cross.
The sculpture of Veronika had no face but the other human faces were gaunt and showed pain, grief or aggression.
I felt like it was the figure of Peter's Denial which really brought me to an understanding of the work. Peter is hunched in front of a group of people talking and a rooster crowing. In his robes, he is heavy with grief. His face is tragic and every curve of the figure seems to evoke guilt and grief at the knowledge that he has betrayed the one he loves the most.
When I saw this, I saw all the figures as caught in the inescapable pull of fate and the human condition which cast them out of an innocence of the Garden of Eden where they lived as part of nature... also perhaps represented in the Nativity side, into a cold modern world of betrayal, senseless murder, guilt and grief. The only animals on this side are the rooster, a dog, and the snake which represents Satan by Judas. Though the geometry of the wall suggested trees, the only figurative plant sculpted was the stump of a tree. In the center of the entrance was a pole with Jesus tied where he was flogged. which we passed when we entered the cathedral. Inside is definitely not finished. It is interesting to see the work being done. The center is a workshop for mosaicists, mold makers and sculptors.
There was a display on the types of rock used and a display on some of the geometry involved in the columns and vaults. These were Gaudi's forests with columns based on the geometry of trees and innovative vaults like palm leaves arching overhead.
There was some mosaic work completed which filled the vaults with gold and orange tiles. We then took the elevator up to the towers from which we were able to walk up and down stone spiral stairs and view some of the work on the central part of the roof as well as some features of the Gloria side--mosaic walls and towers with mosaic piles of fruit on the top.
In the downstairs crypt we were able to see plaster models, an exhibit on the sculptor who designed the Nativity sculptures, sketches for the Passion sculptures, and large images of how the finished cathedral would look. There was an exhibit on how Gaudi was influenced by nature as well of some of his architectural sketches. The original sketches for the cathedral disappeared during the Spanish Civil War when his studio at the cathedral was burned and many of the original plaster models smashed.
Back outside we walked around the cathedral again. Rowshan said he thinks it will be one of the Wonders of the World when it is finished. I believe it will be the last work of its kind completed. Buildings that take more than 100 years to build are a thing of a past. Though it was started as a cathedral of redemption, it has also become a cathedral to art.
We walked back to the center via a couple more Gaudi creations: Casa Mila (La Pedra),
where we visited an exhibition and were able to glance into the courtyard, and Casa Batlo with its fantastic roof.
As we wandered around Barcelona, we made a point of visiting other Gaudi creations including Finca Guell with its magnificent dragon gate.
Another fabulous Gaudi work is Parc Guell. We approached from the back where a series of escalators took us up the hill to the entrance. We headed down to the popular part of the park with its rock grotto arches, long curving mosaic bench and the columned grotto underneath: a space I found enchanting with its thick round columns and glass and mosaic ceiling pieces.
A guitarist was playing classical music with a crowd of children sitting quietly enraptured by the music. The teachers practically had to drag 2 of them away and encourage them to run screaming all over the park instead. The "dragon" which I think is actually a lizard, was as popular as ever with everyone posing with it, a huge frustration for Rowshan who just wanted a photograph of the lizard by itself.
The park had many other Gaudi details: ceramic pieces broken and made into convex curved motifs on the walls, whimsical soft serve ice cream towers and areas where the border between what was nature and man made blurred.
There were lots of buskers and sellers. We tested out the curving bench which we found quite comfortable.