By Jennifer Vogel
Of course you've heard of Basilica de La Sagrada Família: that crazy, Antoni Gaudí-designed Catholic church that stands like a Seussian birthday cake in the center of Barcelona. I had heard of it, too. I even considered skipping it when I was in the Catalan capital recently. Thankfully I didn’t, or I would have missed the most spectacular building I’ve ever seen.
I was jet-lagged but attempting to shake it off by walking Barcelona’s elaborate streets and drinking coffee at every opportunity. Then, I arrived at the front doors of La Sagrada Família (“The Holy Family”). These doors aren’t just doors, however. They are enormous, cast bronze slabs, part of the church’s “glory façade,” each imprinted with a section of the Lord’s Prayer in Catalan and 49 other languages.
The doors are surrounded by exterior structural lines that tilt at odd angles, as well as sculptures of birds and fish and people, and frosting pillars and balconies that frankly shouldn’t exist by the laws of physics. It’s as much a riot of joy and inspiration as exists in one place anywhere.
The true spectacle, however, is inside. Still more pillars reach like trees from the floor to the kaleidoscopic ceiling. Above the main altar, Jesus flies under a canopy festooned with grapes and glowing baubles, as though he’s hang gliding. Gaudí slept in his studio in the basement while he designed and built the church around him (the studio has been recreated for tours). He was struck and killed by a streetcar in 1926, at the age of 73.
What Gaudí understood inherently is that while the church itself is dazzling and original, its true purpose is to serve as a vessel for light. On the crisp, blue morning of my visit, the sun streamed through the enormous banks of stained glass windows like searchlights from heaven. Gaudí said color is life. And standing there with yellow, orange, and red beams on my face and in my eyes, I could feel it: life and inspiration and more than a little awe.
If you go, alumnus Rahim Habib (M.B.A. ’02) and his wife Marta Rodelas—who met at the Carlson School and now live in Barcelona—recommend these hidden gems:
The best place to eat patatas bravas, a local fried potato dish, is El Tomás de Sarriá.
If you’re looking for live jazz music and dinner, you can’t do better than Hotel Casa Fuster on a Thursday night.
The most joyful summer open-air concert series is Festival Jardins de Pedralbes.
Hands down, the tastiest Catalan-style tapas (pica-pica) are served at Paco Meralgo.
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