The Sagrada Familia: The Astonishing Story of Gaudi's Unfinished Masterpiece

Towering over Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia has famously been under construction since 1882. Yet despite its unfinished state, the cathedral draws approximately 3 million tourists each year who revel in the wild masterpiece of devotional architecture. Gaudi’s vision combines Gothic and Art Nouveau, resulting one of the most original, memorable buildings in history.   

The author of Gaudi: A Biography, Gijs van Hensbergen recently published The Sagrada Familiar: The Astonishing Story of Gaudi’s Unfinished Masterpiece, which Colm Toibin calls “essential reading for any student of Catalonia’s fascinating and complex heritage, as it is for any visitor to Barcelona.” Van Hensbergen’s tribute unveils the cathedral’s fascinating history while meditating on its significance.

Read an excerpt below:

For many years, Gaudi was deemed far too popular and lightweight for architectural historians – outside of Catalonia – to take him seriously. He was also seen as far too eccentric, too bizarre and, in Catalonia, the land of Salvador Dali, almost too obviously surrealist and actually downright strange.

Gaudi is a total one-off. But Dali’s obsessive interest in Gaudi did the architect no favours. In 1933 in the surrealist magazine Minotaure, in an article entitled ‘The Terrifying and Edible Beauty of Art Nouveau Architecture’, Dali eulogized, rhapsodized then sacrificed Gaudi’s architecture on the altar of his own perverse ego. As always, Dali was far cleverer than he gave himself credit for. Gaudi’s architecture was sensual, soft, erotic, inviting touch. It was like an ornamental ‘confectioner’s table’, Dali said, and he was right – it does have the faint echo of those great pieces montées of chocolate, icing and spun sugar constructed by the legendary Antonin Carême for the banquets of tsars, kings, and emperors.

It was Carême – the first superstar chef – who, puffed up with the pride of his profession, made the rather silly claim that ‘architecture was the most noble of the arts and that pastry was the highest form of architecture’. However, even today Christian Escriba, Catalan’s celebrated chocolatier, is known to construct and carefully mould the odd version of a Gaudi house in chocolate in direct homage to his two masters, the two Antonis, Carême and Gaudi.

 

The cathedral's spires are expected to be complete in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death, and at that time the Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world. To read more about this stunning building, check out van Hensbergen’s new book here.