It’s a cold and snowy day in Belgrade, so let’s warm up by looking at sunny photos of The Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia (called “La Seu”) in Barcelona, Spain. The Cathedral is named after the patron Saint of Barcelona, Saint Eualia, who was martyred during the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians from 303-311. “La Seu” refers to the Cathedral’s place as the seat of the diocese. And is obviously a lot easier to say.
Walking to La Seu is an adventure in itself. It’s located in the Gothic Quarter, an area designed with twisting, narrow streets lined with shops and high, stone walls.
Eventually, these streets open up to La Seu with great effect.
Construction started in 1298, with the builders incorporating a Roman Chapel that was built between 1257-1268. Most of the work was done in the 14th Century but (according to some reports) wasn’t completed until 1913. Makes the Sagrada Familia seem like a rush job, doesn’t it? In any case, it was worth the wait. The entrance is impressive- a massive, high hallway with 28 side chapels and a choir in the middle of the hallway.
But the best part of La Seu is when the dark, gothic building gives way to a light-filled cloister with gardens, a drinking fountain, and geese.
These geese have been kept here for 500 years. There’s no clear reason why; explanations range from tradition to symbolism. Whatever the reasons, there is an evident love for animals here. The cloister also featured pheasant-looking birds in a coop, and animal gargoyles line the high cloister walls.
Finally, the church allows visitors to ride an elevator to the roof for a view of the Gothic Quarter and beyond. From there, you can see the architectural history of Barcelona from the gothic quarter to the Agbar Tower.
I thought La Seu was going to be a “typical” Cathedral, but I could not have been more wrong. Its combination of history, architecture, vistas and animal husbandry are as unique as the Catalan region itself.
Gaudi once said, “copiers have no collaborators.” Well, I didn’t want to be a collaborator. I copied the route for a Gaudi tour from our guidebook and a tour pamphlet, and planned our first day in Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia (enough of that building, RHOB!) and other works by the famed architect.
The first stop on our tour was along the Passeig de Gracia, a broad street flanked by orange trees and posh shops. Muz couldn’t join me-he has to “work to support this family,”-sigh- so I was traveling with a friend. She was looking across the street when we got to the Casa Batllo, so I was able to dramatically spin her and say “look!” I watched her mouth drop at this sight:
Casa Batllo is also known as the House of Bones, due to the skeletal patterns tracing the balconies and the roofline. The building is a combination of pretty and creepy-the trellis of mosaic patterns on the walls look like flowers all year round, while the balconies resemble faceless masks looking over the street. According to one observer, the drooping curved lines resemble folds of skin. Personally, I thought that was gross. But I loved the building.
We next walked to the slightly less dramatic, but no less interesting, Casa Mila.
If Casa Battlo is the dramatic, flamboyant sister, Casa Mila is the deep, introspective one. Both are curvy ladies that attract the eye, but Mila’s most interesting features aren’t visible at first glance. Mila was designed to allow almost every part of the house to get sunlight. It’s constructed entirely of neutral stone, to let you appreciate the bare aesthetic. Mila’s best feature-rooftop chimneys and ventilation shafts that look like statues-isn’t visible to passerby. To our dismay, we couldn’t get in the building at that time. I guess that just leaves something for my next visit.
Finally, we took the metro and rode outdoor escalators up extremely steep stairs to get to Parc Guell.
It was getting late in the day, so we scampered around, trying to observe all the details of the park before sunset. By the time we got to the famed terrace, it was getting dark, so I skipped taking photos to appreciate the beauty of it all: impossible shapes and colors, musicians playing, parakeets flying through the park, and the scent of trees and dirt. Parc Guell isn’t exactly a Basilica, but it’s a spiritual place nonetheless.
Here’s the recipe for the Basilica of the Sagrada Família:
• One religious, genius architect/engineer
• A passel of Easter egg colors
• One teaspoon psychedelic visions
Stir with thousands of construction workers, sculptors, and artists. Bake for approximately 143 years. Yields over 1.5 million visitors a year.
If you’d like, you can add a sprinkle of controversy: does the Sagrada Família reflect Gaudi’s original design? After all, most of his plans were destroyed in 1938, 12 years after Gaudi died from being hit by a streetcar. Look both ways, folks.
A former Mayor of Barcelona suggested that the temple stop construction when people “were no longer sure that this was exactly what [Gaudi] wanted.” But how could one know that? Fortunately, the construction goes on. There is some sense of continuity: the current architect, Jordi Bonet, is the son of another architect that assisted Gaudi. How very Gabriel Garcia Marquez, no?
One thing is for sure: Gaudi designed the Sagrada Família to shock and awe the senses, and the Basilica does exactly that. The skyline is unique: high spires with delicate details and mosaic fruit. Yep, fruit.
Inside, the church seems to be divided into halves. One is relatively white and serene,
while the side facing the altar is swimming in bright colors with modern and natural symbolism. Gaudi once said he wanted the inside of the church to look like a forest; the light and color certainly give that impression.
It’s hard to believe that after 128 years, the Sagrada Família is just past the midpoint of its construction. It’s estimated that work will be completed in 2026, on the centennial of Gaudi’s death. But construction deadlines have a way of slipping, so feel free to see this masterpiece in action. Even Gaudi knew that the Sagrada Família would be built over several generations. According to records, he felt that “The work of the Sagrada Família progresses slowly because [God] is in no great hurry.” I’m in no hurry either, if this is the result. Besides, the ingredients are awfully hard to find.