Of the many signs that spring has sprung, one of my favorites
is the arrival of Oceania Cruises’ ships in Europe. This year Riviera was the first to arrive, and she
began her European season in the spectacular city of Barcelona.

Cruises often commence or conclude in Barcelona, and on my previous voyages as Blogger-at-Large, my schedule had forced
me to arrive just in time to embark or to fly home immediately after
disembarking. If you begin or end a voyage in Barcelona, I highly recommend
taking advantage of Oceania Cruises’ pre- or post-cruise hotel packages to
allow yourself a few extra days in this wonderful city. From the architecture
to the museums to the markets to the promenades, this is a city worth lingering
in.

The sights of Barcelona are far too expansive to describe in
a single blog, so I’m dedicating this one solely to the Sagrada Família, the
magnum opus of famed architect Antoni Gaudí and the most recognizable icon in
the city. After visiting the Vatican, my husband said he would never need to
visit another church now that he’d seen St. Peter’s Basilica. When he saw the
Sagrada Família, he retracted that statement.

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The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is Gaudí’s crowning
achievement, despite the fact that it remains unfinished to this day. Gaudí
worked on the church from 1883 until his death in 1926, and since then
different architects have continued the work based on Gaudí’s original design.
Because it is an expiatory church, the entire construction has been funded
solely by donations, and Gaudí always considered it a church made by and for
the people. He knew the project would only be completed long after his death,
and he carried out the planning and construction in such a way that each
succeeding generation could be responsible for a particular part.

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The Nativity façade was one of Gaudí’s first undertakings.
It celebrates the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family, to whom the church is
dedicated. Three entrances symbolize faith, hope and charity. Above the façade
rise towers dedicated to apostles. The bell towers of this façade were
completed in 1933, after Gaudí’s death.

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Despite severe damage done to the church during the Spanish
Civil War in the late 1930s, construction resumed afterward. Most of Gaudí’s
original plans were lost, but many pieces of plaster models were recovered.
There were also published plans and photographs of the original models
available, and many of Gaudí’s followers had created volumes of notes based on
information he shared with them. Using these resources, construction was able
to continue according to Gaudí’s original vision.

The foundations of the Passion façade were laid in 1954,
based on the many studies that Gaudí had done. In contrast to the joyful tone
of the Nativity façade, the simple figures on the Passion façade are darkly
dramatic and intense, as this section tells the story of Jesus’ pain, sacrifice
and death. The sun’s descent casts shadows on the figures that further
emphasize their desolation.

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The Glory façade is currently under construction and will be
the main entrance to the church when it is finished. When the church is
complete, it will have 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the apostles, four to the
evangelists, one to Jesus and one to Mary.

The interior of the Sagrada Família is just as impressive as
the exterior. The system of columns supporting the five naves is unique in the
history of architecture. The soaring branches of the columns give the
impression of a forest, as the structure and mechanics of trees inspired Gaudí’s
design. The cloister is also unique in that it runs all around the church, only
interrupted by the doors and the apse. Throughout the interior are stunning
works of stained glass; since 1999 many have been designed by artist Joan Vila-Grau.

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The Sagrada Família is an astounding achievement. If you travel
to Barcelona, be certain to visit this amazing church and witness for yourself
the brilliance of Gaudí and the talent and dedication of the people of this
city.

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