October 15, 2004

Oh My Gaudi

Today's highlight (and one of the highlights of the entire trip, fo' sure), was our excursion to La Sargada Familia, The Church of the Holy Family. La Sargada was archetypical architect Antoni Gaudi's quintessential work. Gaudi spent nearly 40 years of his life in pursuit of realizing his dream to build Barcelona's greatest cathedral, dedicated to the task until his untimely death (via a tram) in 1926.

Words cannot do Sargada justice...even pictures fall short. It is undoubtedly the single most impressive man-made creation we've seen to date...and we've seen a few:

Gaudi's Masterpiece

I would go as far to say that (for yours truly), if you combined the beauty and architectural feats that went into building every Duomo in Italy, every Cathedral in England, every basilica in France, all of them COMBINED would not surpass the jaw-dropping site of La Sargada.

Gaudi not Gaudy

How can this puppy best the like of Saint Paul's, The Duomo in Florence, Notre Dame, St. Peter's, etc.? Because Gaudi's work is more art than architecture. The aforementioned buildings certainly vary stylistically, but they are all variations on a pretty standard theme. Clean, straight lines, vaulted ceilings, domes, tons of marble, gilded altars, stain glass, etc. The only thing that truly changes from cathedral to basilica is scale.

La Sargada is a complete departure from the rather impersonal, impress-you-with-sheer-size and glitziness of your typical house of worship. Gaudi drew from the natural world for his inspiration in designing La Sargada resulting in a style that is surprisingly familiar in spite of their unconventional aesthetic.

Gaudi's reliance on nature goes far beyond a visual celebration of nature though...he recognized that nature's example provides a perfect blueprint: from the trunk of the redwood in the rear of the church:

California Columns

....to the perfect spiral of a shell

Bird's eye view of the staircase

...to the branch-like design of the columns within the temple itself:

Branching out

Even the sculptures which depict various biblical scenes are attention grabbing. We're not talking Madonna and child done the same way 50x over...we're talking unique interpretations of what were for the architect/artist extremely significant events:

Veronica displaying the image of Christ captured on her cloth, Crucification above

Gaudi knew that while La Sargada Familia was his life's work, given the scope of the project there was no way it would be finished during his lifetime. It's probably safe to assume he would be a bit surprised how far the Spaniards have to go though, given it's been nearly 125 years since he stopped working on it. The plans call for 12 massive towers --- all 100M high --- representing the 12 apostles, plus 4 for the evangelists, and one a piece for Mary and Christ. However only 8 are complete and the architects are unsure how they are going to erect Christ's tower...which will be over 500 feet high. Given these challeges, the current team predicts the project will be completed in 25 years.

However, IMHO, if construction stopped today Sargada would still be reason enough to make a trip to Barcelona.

After closing our jaws J and I headed to the Picasso museum, another artist Barcelona can lay claim to. The museum houses over 3,000 of Picasso's works, most of which were donated by the artist himself. The earliest works were painted when he was a wee 11 years old...and you can already tell the boy gots skills :-).

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