I knew La Sagrada Familia was going to be a life-changing experience. I felt it when first I glimpsed the basilica spires between buildings as we neared it on the tour bus the day before, a sudden tightening in my chest and a burning in my eyes like I might cry. Unfortunately the camera batteries went out on my arrival, forcing me to abort the plan.
I returned the next day via the metro with a full charge, and I’m glad I did.
The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família was designed by Antoni Gaudi, begun in 1882 combining Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture. Though Gaudi died in 1926, the basilica is still under construction, hence the cranes. It’s pretty amazing when you look at the history of it, considering interruptions by the Spanish Civil War and destruction of plans by anarchists. They’re projecting building completion in 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.
While the exterior was indeed impressive — the sheer weight and density of the basilica I could only guess at — I was unprepared for the profound transformation of the world within. It was something like an awakening.
The interior walkway was a crowded press of bodies, eyes all gazing upward, but the immensity of the place, the organic yet otherworldly quality of the space, I felt as if I were alone in witnessing this. Tears did start in my eyes, an unexpected flood of emotion.
I opted to pay more to take the tour down one of the towers via an initial ride on a lift to the top.
Exiting the lift, I moved tentatively to peer out to see the city of Barcelona sprawled out in miniature before me. I discovered something about myself just then — I am afraid of heights!
I think my eyes remained just this wide the whole way down until I was safely again on the ground.
I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced true vertigo prior to that. I felt as though gravity was going to play a cruel trick on me, that somehow the floor might lunge beneath my feet and fling me over the edge, or perhaps I might inexplicably be sucked out the tiny window I would gaze out of. Or maybe pull of the sky might overpower the pull of the ground and I might be snatched up into the clouds.
To compensate, I instinctively felt the need to press myself closer to the ground, as if to regain my balance.
And then I realized I was going to have to conquer this sudden fear if I was to photograph anything of the experience. I asked myself, when was I ever going to be up here again? When would I ever have the opportunity to see any of this again? Thus, with fluttering heart, eyes wide, I approached the windows and the balconies with camera in hand.
It was a narrow curving stair down the tower with no safety rail down the interior side, plenty of graffiti along the wall all the way down though.
Like stepping from a different world back into this one. I am forever changed for this place.