Wednesday 29 May 2013
Today was reserved for a visit to La Sagrada Familia. Although we arrived early, there was already a queue snaking around the block. We did not have to wait too long to get in, however.
The building is structured so as to tell the story of Christ’s life: the eastern entrance is decorated with scenes of the nativity, and the western entrance with scenes from Calvary. We began our tour by ascending one of the towers above the ‘Nativity’ entrance. This consisted of a brief ride in a lift, and then a long descent through narrow towers that were reminiscent of the bell-tower in Ghent, except that we could shift sideways from one tower to the next, and there were many windows carved into the stone where you could enjoy sweeping views of the city from the mountains to the sea. The towers are both high and massive in their construction: the stone is thick and dense, and it seems that every stone must have been cut to a unique shape. Towards the end our decent, the stairs formed a beautiful spiral that plunged vertically for several stories and looked exactly like the inside of a nautilus shell. The effect was stunning.
The complexity of the cathedral is bewildering, but it is also extremely coherent: from the outside or from a distance, it can appear a bit like an uncanny hodge-podge; but up close it betrays an attention to detail in which the forms of the smaller parts constantly redound with the more massive structures that raise the towers of the cathedral skywards. The better acquainted we get with this building—both from the safe distance of our balcony and bedroom window, and from the closer encounters of our tour of the Cathedral and other structures in which Gaudi had trialled his ideas—the more I marvel how such a singular vision has managed to capture the imagination of so many others who have striven so diligently to realise it.
The main hall of the cathedral is of course the big drawcard. The columns rise and branch like vast stone trees; coloured stained glass windows suck in the light and cast it down onto the cathedral floor in angled shafts over 40 metres below; and one corner of the ceiling audaciously represents the Almighty Himself as a golden effusion of light. The whole thing is so outrageously ambitious and yet so well done that even the most cynical atheist must get the point: we are all capable of experiencing the divine, even if we strip it of any religious meaning.
We returned to our apartment around midday, having taken in about as much as we could for one day. We mulled over the details of the cathedral over lunch, and enjoyed the sun on the balcony.