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Sagrada Familia: the church that will never be finished building?

The Sagrada Família with water and trees

The Sagrada Familia | Photo by Enrico Perini on Pexels

When you think about Barcelona, there is a big chance the Sagrada Familia is the first thing that pops up in your mind. The Sagrada Familia is the largest unfinished Catholic basilica in the world. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, who is very famous for his architecture in Barcelona, it even became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the Sagrada Familia was first designed to be a simple Roman Catholic church, it was declared a basilica in 2010 by the Pope Benedict XVI. These facts might be familiar to you, but there are a lot more interesting sides to Antoni Gaudí and the Sagradia Familia. Here’s the story of Antoni Gaudí’s last project: the Sagrada Familia.

How did Gaudí get the project?

In 1866 Josep Maria Bocabella purchased a plot of land to build a basilica dedicated to the Holy Family. This designing project was initially assigned to Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882. He designed the Basilica with neo-Gothic elements such as ogival windows and buttress. Due to technical differences about the cost of materials, Bocabella replaced Francisco de Paula del Villar. In the meantime, Gaudí was starting to stand out in the field. He designed several well known buildings such as Casa Vincens and Casa Batlló. In 1883 Gaudí, still working on other buildings, took over the project. He started to incorporate his own, more modern, architectural style in the original designs. Gaudí was a catholic and he incorporated religious symbolism in his architectural designs. This is why he designed the highest tower of the Sagrada Familia to reach 170 meters, so it would not exceed the Montjuïc hill because he considered the hill as the work of God. In 1914 Gaudí started to exclusively work on the Basilica, but he was in no hurry to finish the project. This is also evident from his famous statement: “My client (God) is in no hurry.”

a view of Barcelona city with the Sagrada Familia and the hills in the background

The Sagrada Familia in the skyline of Barcelona | Picture by Michal Jarmoluk on Pixabay

Working on the project

Antoni Gaudí really lived for his work and was very dedicated to the project of the Sagrada Familia. Even though he made good money from his other projects, he still lived a modest life. In the last years of his life, he even slept in a crypt inside the basilica. This crypt is located in the basement of the basilica and Gaudí kept a maquette of the basilica there. During the construction Gaudí had his own workplace at the construction site. There, he created models and designs of the Basilic and he kept a close eye on the construction. In 1909 Gaudí set up a school near the site of the Sagrada Familia, for the children of the men working on building the basilic. Other children from underprivileged classes attended this school as well. Gaudí seemed to be a very selfless man. He even considered the mice who lived in the Basilica as part of his project, and left crumbs for them to eat. 

The first bell tower of the Nativity façade was completed on 30 November 1925. This is the only one that Gaudí would see, because on the 10th of June 1926 he got knocked down by a tram. He was making his way, as he did every evening, to the Sagrada Família from the Church of Sant Felip Neri. Gaudí gets heavily wounded by the accident, but because of Gaudí’s humble appearance he didn’t look like a famous architect and nobody recognized him. He was taken to the Santa Cruz Hospital, a hospital for the poor part of the citizens of Barcelona, where he was later recognised by the Priest of the Sagrada Família. Gaudí refused to be taken to a special clinic, and three days later he passed away at the age of 73. Antoni Gaudí was buried inside the Sagrada Familia, and thousands of people came to his funeral. When visiting the church you can see his tomb, which is located in the underground level of the building in the chapel of the Virgen del Carmen.

Will the Sagrada Familia ever be finished?

When Gaudí died, only a quarter of the Sagrada Familia was finished. Someone needed to take over the project, and this was a disciple of Gaudí: Domènec Sugranyes. The construction of the basilica was continued by various architects who based themselves on Gaudi’s original designs. In 1936, during the Spanish Civil war, the revolutionaries set the crypt of the basilica on fire. Thereby, a part of Gaudí’s original plans and models for the Sagrada Familia got burned. After this event, the architects working on finishing the Sagrada Familia had to base themselves on the designs that were left and on the parts of the basilica that were already built.

ceilings of the sagrada familia basilic

The ceiling of the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is now expected to be finished in 2026, but there are still bumps on the road to the completion of this ginormous project. In 1975 the church filed a lawsuit to stop the construction of a housing block opposite to the The Glory Facade. Nowadays this conflict still exists. The polity wants to take down 1200 houses and retail properties to create space for a 60-meter wide boulevard and a huge monumental staircase. This staircase should become the main entrance to the basilica on the Glory Facade. When it’s finished, the Sagrada Familia will be the church with the highest towers of Europe.


Did you become curious about this beautiful building and its huge history? Join us on one of our tours and get to know even more details while you will be amazed by seeing several of Gaudí’s masterpieces with your own eyes! If you’re looking for a customized experience you can get in touch with us.