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How to build Europe’s biggest basilica

How to build Europe’s biggest basilica

Visit a cathedral that has been more than 130 years in the making in National Geographic’s Megastructures: Sagrada Família

Have you heard about the Roman Catholic basilica that has been under construction for more than a century?

Megastructures: Sagrada Família, Sunday 16 December, 9pm, National Geographic/HD (CH 266/268). Also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > National Geographic

Well, it’s one of the most beautiful in the world and it’s not even finished yet. The Sagrada Família in Barcelona is the star at the centre of National Geographic’s Megastructures documentary. Since 1882, the towering structure has been a work in progress, with the Catalan architect behind it, Antoni Gaudí, working on it for 43 years before his death in 1926.


Apparently, the Gothic and Byzantine-inspired building will be completed by the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death – in 2026. This could be considered bittersweet, but Gaudí himself wouldn’t want you to mourn: “It is not a disappointment that I will not be able to finish the temple. I will grow old, but others will come after me. What must be always preserved is the spirit of the work – its life will depend on the generations that transmit this spirit and bring it to life.”

In this one-off special, footage shows that the race to finish the basilica is well and truly on. As it stands, 70% of the construction process is completed, with work continuing on building the six central towers. In total, there are 18 towers – each with a special meaning. The middle tower, dedicated to Jesus Christ, will measure more than 172 metres, making the finished Sagrada Família the tallest religious building in Europe!


Four towers representing the Gospels will surround it, with a tower topped with a star signifying the Virgin Mary. The remaining 12 towers will be dedicated to the 12 Apostles. The differing heights symbolise the hierarchy and draw the eye vertically upwards – Gaudí’s intention was to create the feeling of elevation to God.


All that – in the next eight years? If it can be pulled off, it will be a design feat. If it’s a few years shy of the deadline, you know it’ll be worth the wait – even if the Sagrada Família will have taken longer to build than the Egyptian Pyramids. As Gaudí said: "My boss is not in a hurry."


Megastructures: Sagrada Familia

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Image credits: Megastructures: Sagrada Familia © National Geographic