Saturday, December 17, 2011

La Sagrada Familia

While my mom was here, we had a Dali Day, a Picasso Day, and a Gaudi Day.  I was most excited to finally go inside Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, as I have been eyeing it from the outside since I arrived, but it has always been too enveloped by tourist lines to think about going in. But my mom and I timed our visit just right.
The Temple Expiatori de La Sagrada Familia (Temple of the Sacred Family) takes its name from the fact that it is dedicated to Jesus and his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary.  Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, became the chief architect of this church in 1883. He was given the commission by a conservative society that wanted to build a church as an atonement for the city's sins of modernity.  This was ironic because Gaudi was the Catalan pioneer of modernisme. However, he was a deeply religious man, and felt this project's completion to be his holy mission.

This church was Gaudi's last hurrah, and consumed him as an obsession until his death in 1938. As funds ran out, he contributed his own, and in the later years of his life, he pleaded with many for contributions.  It is still under construction, which makes it a unique church to visit, because it's amazingly beautiful and awe-inspiring, and there is so much more is to come!

I don't know what's more impressive, coming out of the subway and seeing the sheer verticality and strange shapes of the exterior of the church or walking inside of it, and experiencing the "forest" of pillars and stained glass light.  

The pillars are shaped like trees, and support the vaults of the church. The light coming in from the stained glass windows creates a mottled lighting effect like leaves on the inside walls of the church. The tree-like branching structure was no accident; Gaudi wanted people to feel like they were inside a forest.  The lighting is like no other church I have been in. There are large oculi at the top so the sky can even be seen.

"The principle of the building is to shelter us from the sunshine and rain; it imitates the tree as this shelters us from the sunshine and rain. The ramified shapes of the columns and their sheer numbers will give the congregation the feeling of truly being in a forest." - Gaudi

In one of the wings, there was a small exhibit about Gaudi's finding his inspiration in the shapes and structures of Nature. As an example, he said about another project, "When I went to take the measurements of the site, it was totally covered in yellow flowers, which I adopted as the ornamental theme for the ceramic work."  Gaudi's unique style was always in dialogue with Nature.

He studied the buds, spikes, cereals, and grasses that were growing around the site of Sagrada Familia, and then later sculpted into stone these same shapes. The pinnacles on the towers were inspired by the shapes of flower buds. I was so impressed by his knowledge of everything, from architecture, to math, to Nature, to metalwork...

The building facades on each side of the church represent a different part of Jesus' life: the Birth, the Glory, and the Passion.  The Glory side is still under construction, but the Birth and Passion were explorable. On the east facade, sculpture and stained glass windows show scenes of a joyful world at the birth of Jesus. 

Gaudi disliked straight lines, as there were none in Nature.  He gave his towers swelling outlines inspired by the strange peaks of nearby Montserrat. Also, it's hard to see, but there is a large cypress tree up there with alabaster doves on it. It is supposed to represent a refuge in a storm for the white doves of peace. 

Just like any Gothic church, gargoyles are hiding amidst the Biblical depictions to scare away evil spirits.

 A turtle at the base of a pillar:

To the right of the Birth facade, is the Claustre del Roser, a tiny cloister in the Gothic style. Notice the sculpture of a reptile devil handing a terrorist a bomb.  At the time this was built, Barcelona was regularly experiencing political bombings. This sculpture is built to remind people that this is one of "the temptations of men and women."

The mosaic work at the pinnacles of the towers is made from Murano glass, from Venice.

When Gaudi died in 1938, the site was entrusted to Francesc Quintana, who rebuilt the crypt and started restoring the plaster models.  The inside of the church was finally finished in 2010, and this was celebrated by the Pope's visit in December of that year. It was a big deal for Catalunya. 

 We walked around the crypt where the architects' workspaces were visible as well as the plaster models they are working from.

On the west facade, the sculptures dramatically illustrate the events of the Passion and death of Christ. It's barren and desolate compared to the Glory side; the figures are almost inhuman in their blockiness.

This facade was built between 1954 and 1978, and is based on drawings of Gaudi. The architect, Josep Subirachs, did not attempt to imitate Gaudi's style, but created controversial images in his own unique style. I loved how it contrasted with Gaudi's floral, ornate facade of the Birth on the other side of the church.

Mmmm, lavender...

I have heard many different dates as estimated completion dates for the church, from 2020, to another 100 years. Nonetheless, it should end up looking something like this:

Thursday, December 15, 2011


My mom was just with me in Spain for almost two weeks, visiting Barcelona for the first time.  In early December, there were some random public holidays midweek, so I invited her to come at this time, so we'd be able to do some sightseeing just about every other day, and she could see my school on the other days.

On her first weekend, we took a trip to the small medieval town of Girona, an easy train trip from Barcelona.  Girona is an ancient, walled city, and has been fought over in almost every century since it was founded as a Roman fortress. As many as 21 beisieges have been counted, earning it the name "Immortal" during its 19th attack.  When the Moors came to Spain, Girona was an Islamic town for over 200 years. You can really see this in the labrynth of narrow alleys and pathways.  There was also a continuous Jewish presence in the city for six hundred years.  As a result of all the different people that have conquered it, the city is a hodgepodge of architectural styles.

We stayed in Hotel Bellmiral, a refurbished 15th century building, in the middle of the medieval quarter. The whole time we walked around Barri Vell, the old part of town, I felt like we were living in the medieval times. If Hollywood were to film a medieval movie in Girona, they wouldn't have to change a thing. It's completely preserved.
This is the Cathedral of Girona, an excellent example of the Catalan Gothic architectural style, and right by our hotel.  The foundation has been a place of worship since the Roman times, and before the Christians built the Cathedral, the Moors had built a mosque here. The Cathedral was started in 1038, but most of the structure dates from the 15th century. 

This is the main facade, remodelled in the 18th century, and covered in flowers, coats of arms, and statues.
The cloister attached to the church (which is one of my 9th graders' vocabulary words as we study A Midsummer Night's Dream, and one of Miss Simpson's new words, too!) is from the 12th century, and features minutely carved figures and scenes on columns. 

Next, we headed toward the Arab Baths, by walking through the Passeig de la Muralla, and through landscaped gardens.

Here it is! (I foreshadowed this shot in my last blog.)

The Banys Arabs, or Arab Baths, were gorgeous!  A little bit o' hamam in Spain! These baths were designed by Moorish architects around 1194 and rebuilt a century later. It was closed down in the 15th century to protect public morals, and was appropriated as a Christian convent in 1617.  Then they were restored by local architects and reopened to the public as a museum in 1929. This is the changing room.

Little holes just like in Turkish hamams...same shapes!

This is the steam room.

And the view from the roof...

Then we took a walk to find the old city walls, where supposedly you could still walk atop them, and cover the whole perimeter of the old city.

It took a little while to find an entrance.

Here it is!

The city is built along the River Onyar. There are several bridges crossing the river to the cafe-lined Rambla. You can see now the architecture is more modern; there are even the occasional modernisme-style buildings.

On Saturday night, we wandered through El Call, the preserved Jewish quarter of the city. We walked along Carrer de la Forca (Forca Street). El Call had a population of over 300 Jews at its peak. But from the 13th century onward, the Jews of Girona suffered systematic persecution. By1391, it was a restrictive ghetto, and in 1492 the Jews were completely expelled from Spain.

The Cathedral at sunset.

Even if we could stave our hunger until 8pm, it was still too early for the Spanish to eat, and as usual, we began our supper with the whole restaurant to ourselves!
The next morning, the sun came out, so we were able to wander the tight passageways and take some photos of the light.

Mmmm, Christmas cupcakes... But all shops are closed on Sundays....

From Girona on Sunday morning, we took the train another 20 minutes north to Figueres so my mom could see the crazy Dali museum. It was quite the switch, from medieval to surreal!