The city of Barcelona has issued a building permit for one of Spain’s most famous tourist attractions. After 137 years the church, designed by the iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, never had a building permit issued, so construction was illegal. The Unesco world heritage site has agreed to pay $41m (£32m) to city authorities as a penalty for the oversight. It is not known why this was overlooked for over a century.
Gaudi joked; His client God was in no rush to see the cathedral finished
Friday, La Sagrada Familia was given a license to allow construction to officially continue until 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. His plaster models and copies of his original drawings were destroyed in a fire during the 1930s, and modern processes such as digital 3D printing have been employed to finish the project.
The agreement puts an end to “a historical anomaly in our city”, said Janet Sanz, Barcelona’s deputy mayor of urbanism. About 4.5 million people visit the Sagrada Familia each year, with a further 20 million people visiting the area to look at it.
The Sagrada Familia is an exceptional church, both in terms of origin and construction. The building was a project promoted by and for the people, and after five generations of seeing the evolution of the church in Barcelona, it is finally steering into the last lap of building. Currently, the Basilica is still under construction.
In 1882, construction of Sagrada Família began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned, Gaudi took over as chief architect, transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudi devoted the remainder of his life to the project, and he is buried in the crypt. At the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.
Relying solely on private donations, Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop, partially destroying Gaudí’s original plans, drawings and plaster models, which led to 16 years work to piece together the fragments of the master model. Construction resumed to intermittent progress in the 1950s. Advancements in technologies such as computer-aided design and computerised numerical control (CNC) have since enabled faster development and construction past the midpoint in 2010. However, some of the project’s most significant challenges remain, including the creation of ten more spires, each symbolising an essential Biblical figure in the New Testament.
The Basilica has a long history of splitting opinion among the residents of Barcelona: over the initial possibility it might compete with Barcelona’s cathedral, over Gaudí’s design itself, over the chance that work after Gaudí’s death disregarded his plan, and the 2007 proposal to build a tunnel of Spain’s high-speed rail link to France which could disturb its stability. Describing Sagrada Família, art critic Rainer Zerbst said “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art”, and Paul Goldberger describes it as “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages”.
Gaudi was born in 1852 in Reus, a small town south of Barcelona, and he died in a street accident in 1926. The intellectual context towards the end of the 19th century in Catalonia was marked by Modernism, a movement that extended from around 1880 to the First World War, parallel to currents such as Naturalism, Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau. It was motivated by a return to traditions as an expression of national identity, as well as by the introduction of modern techniques and materials. Modernisme differed from the other movements by becoming important for popular cultural identity. Gaudí’s work represents the genius of the architect, expressing particular spatial qualities and plasticity in the undulating lines and harmonies of colours and materials in architectural surfaces and sculpted features.
His main undertaking is the church of Sagrada Familia, based on the Latin cross. The work had been started by architect Francesc de P. del Villar in 1882 in the Gothic revival style. In 1883 Gaudì made fundamental changes to the first project and continued the work until his death. The crypt was built in 1884-89 and the Nativity facade finished in 1905. The four fantastic bell towers were finished in 1925-30. The transept elevation of the Passion was started in 1960.