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Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia gets building permit after 137 years

  • June 08, 2019

La Sagrada Familia Basilica, which has been under construction in Spain’s northeastern city of Barcelona for the last 137 years, has finally been granted a building permit.

Barcelona’s City Council gave planning consent on Friday to allow the project to be completed by 2026, the centenary of chief architect Antoni Gaudi’s death.

City officials say a foundation devoted to completing and preserving the basilica have paid €4.6 million ($5.2 million) for the permit, allowing them to finish construction to a maximum height of 172.5 meters (566 feet) and a ground surface of 41,000 square meters (around 440,000 square feet).

Read more: First Gaudi-built house opens in Barcelona

  • Spanien Tourismus Barcelona Sagrada Familia (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Fernandez)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    La Sagrada Familia

    Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia basilica is a major tourist draw in Barcelona. Begun in 1882 by architect Francisco Paula de Villar, it was continued by Gaudi until his death in 1926 — and remains unfinished to this day. A mixture of Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernism and art nouveau styles, the church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Goldmann)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    Gaudi’s world

    La Sagrada Familia, planned for completion in 2026, welcomes visitors from all over the world with an expressive interplay of light and color. Gaudi took nature as the inspiration for his architectural language. The roof is supported by columns that rise toward the sky like trees. In addition to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi designed the Park Guell and several residential buildings in Barcelona.

  • Las Ramblas (picture-alliance/DUMONT Bildarchiv/F. Heuer)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    Las Ramblas

    Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote that Barcelona’s main boulevard was “the one street in the world I didn’t want to end.” The iconic heart of Spain’s second-largest city saw bloodshed on August 17, when more than a dozen people were killed in a terrorist attack. The vibrant promenade is particularly full of pedestrians, shoppers, diners and street performers on warm afternoons.

  • Art at the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Read)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    Fundacio Joan Miro

    When terrorists drove a van down Las Ramblas, running over pedestrians in their path, the vehicle came to a halt in front of a statue by Barcelona-born artist Joan Miro (1893-1983). A museum dedicated to the painter, sculptor, and ceramicist is located on the nearby Montjuic hill. His work reflects motifs from Catalan folk art and can also be found throughout the city — like on Las Ramblas.

  • Frank Gehry's Golden Fish sculpture at Port Olimpic in Barcelona (picture-alliance/Arco Images/J. de Cuveland)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    The harbor

    Las Ramblas leads directly down to Barcelona’s large harbor. The 1992 Olympic Games in the city sparked a building boom that transformed the cityscape and modified the harbor area. Since then, the Port Olimpic, with its promenade, bars and restaurants, has become a popular attraction. The “Golden Fish,” a sculpture designed by architect Frank Gehry for the 1992 Olympics, is a striking landmark.

  • Barri Gòtic in Barcelona (picture-alliance/DUMONT Bildarchiv/F. Heuer)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    The Gothic Quarter

    Just north of Las Ramblas is the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter in the Old Town. The quarter dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries and contains Roman and medieval landmarks — the oldest in the city. If you don’t pay attention, you can lose your way in its maze of alleyways, but at least you won’t be bothered by cars. The narrow streets are closed to regular traffic.

  • Placa Reial in Barcelona (picture-alliance/DUMONT Bildarchiv/F. Heuer)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    The squares

    In many places in Barcelona, the city streets open up into small or large squares. One of them, Plaça Reial, is just a few meters away from Las Ramblas. It is a popular meeting place for night owls, perhaps because it is home to some of the city’s most famous nightclubs. Constructed in the 19th century, the square’s lanterns were designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

  • Font Màgica in Barcelona (picture-alliance/Eibner)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    Font Magica

    The Font Magica may well be the most romantic place in Barcelona. Built in 1929 for the International Exposition and restored for the 1992 Olympic Games, the magic fountain’s cascades of water are lit in more than 50 shifting hues during the annual Piromusical fireworks and laser show. The Font Magica is the largest fountain in the city and is located at the base of the Montjuic hill.

  • Tibidabo hill in Barcelona (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Reboredo)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean


    Barcelona is framed by two hills, Montjuic (173 meters, 568 feet tall) and Tibidabo (520 meters). Both are perfect vantage points to take in the cityscape, though Tibidabo allows for a slightly better view. It’s reached with Barcelona’s only historic tram line, the Tramvia Blau. At the summit, an amusement park awaits visitors.

  • Surfing in Barcelona (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen)

    Barcelona, the jewel on the Mediterranean

    The beaches

    Not only the city of Barcelona but also its nearby beaches draw millions of tourists a year. The coastline near the city spans 4.5 kilometers (nearly 3 miles) and boasts nine beaches, the most popular of which are Barceloneta, Mar Bella, Nova Icaria and Bogatell. In the summer months, water tempteratures reach a comfortable 20-24 degrees Celcius (68-75 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Author: Kate Müser, Anne Termèche

The agreement between the city and La Sagrada Familia foundation puts an end to “a historical anomaly in our city,” said Barcelona official Janet Sanz.

Spanish authorities realized in 2016 that the unfinished church had been operating illegally for over a century. The basilica’s first stone was laid in 1882, but there is no record showing a building permit was ever granted or rejected.

According to the committee in charge of finishing construction, Gaudi had asked the town hall of Sant Marti, a village now absorbed into Barcelona, for a building permit but never got an answer.

Inside La Sagrada Familia (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Goldmann)

Construction of Gaudi’s unique basilica is funded by private donations and ticket sales

Tallest religious structure in Europe

Every year more than 4.5 million visitors pay €17-38 ($19-43) each to tour the huge Roman Catholic church, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

The Barcelona government estimates 20 million tourists stand outside to marvel at the bell towers; Gaudi envisioned 12, one for each of Christ’s disciples, but they may never all be built.

Read more: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia to become world’s tallest church in 2026

When completed, work on one of the central towers will make La Sagrada Familia the tallest religious structure in Europe, according to the builders.

Barcelona has the largest concentration of buildings designed by Gaudi, whose bold modernist aesthetic still inspires architects.

A fervent Catholic, he dedicated much of his professional life to the huge church project, for which he incorporated elements of Christian symbolism along with the organic forms he often employed.

Gaudi died in 1926 after being struck by a tram when just one facade of the church was complete.

Ongoing construction work is based on the architect’s plaster models, and photos and publications of his original drawings, which were destroyed in a 1930s fire, according to the foundation.

mm/cmk (AFP, EFE)

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