Since work began 141 years ago, the Sagrada Família has become almost as famous for its endless works as for its magnificent architecture. Now nearby residents face being evicted if the construction is completed, but are doubtful a decision be made before this month's key local elections.
A long queue of tourists snakes around the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece which has unwittingly become a byword for unfinished business.
It is an average morning outside of Spain’s most popular attraction. But behind the basilica’s breath-taking spires all is not well.
Plans to build an enormous stairway leading up to the temple’s unfinished main entrance would entail the demolition of three city blocks, forcing the exit of about 1,000 families and businesses next door.
If these plans were realised it would involve demolishing blocks in neighbouring Calle Mallorca, which are already perilously close to the basilica.
The foundation which controls the Sagrada Familia appears set to go ahead with the plans despite opposition from residents’ associations. The final decision remains with Barcelona city council.
Stairway to hell
Salvador Barroso, a lawyer and representative of the Association for those Affected by the Sagrada Familia, a local protest group, is taking legal action to halt the proposed stairway.
Barroso claims the stairway was never in Gaudí’s original plans and it was dreamed up by disciples of the architect after his untimely death in 1926 when he was hit by a tram. The original plans were destroyed by anarchists at the outbreak of the Spanish civil war.
“This was not the work of Gaudí but it is going to affect the lives of about 3,000 people who live near the basilica. That means people like me who have lived next to the place for over 30 years or more,” Barroso told Euronews Culture.
“This is a sword but no-one knows where it is going to fall. In cases of expropriation, the only one who can make the decision is the local council. They should do so quickly and not look the other way.”
Barcelona city council has so far shied away from making a decision and, with local city elections on May 28, it may be reluctant to agree to a plan which involves demolishing dozens of homes.
Ada Colau, Barcelona’s left-wing mayor, campaigned to stop people being evicted from their homes before she took up civic office. Evicting potential voters will not be a good look.
“We are working with representatives of the Sagrada Familia, neighbouring residents and other organisations to find the best solution to finish the works and the necessities of the city,” a city council spokesman told Euronews.
Barcelona wants to “guarantee the right to housing and minimize the number of people affected”, he added.
The city council said it wants to improve facilities for people who live in the immediate surroundings of the basilica and reduce the negative impact of mass tourism.
“We want to find the best solution possible to a complex situation in which there are legitimate interests, but which are evidently opposed,” the council added.
Unesco’s national heritage site listing only covers the part of the basilica completed during the architect’s lifetime.
“We are committed to complete the project of Gaudí in its entirety. For this reason we created a forum for dialogue in February 2020 with the city council, neighbours and other stakeholders in the city to find the best solution,”a spokeswoman for the foundation told Euronews Culture in a statement.
Since work began 141 years ago, the Sagrada Família has become almost as famous for its endless works as its magnificent architecture.
Inside, light bursts through the blue and red-orange stained-glass windows as visitors crane their necks to look at the figures carved in the towers above.
The latest completion date of 2026 now looks uncertain after delays caused by the pandemic.
Last year, 3.7 million tourists visited the basilica from around the world, or about 80% of the numbers who came before the pandemic.
Americans make up the largest group per foreign nationality (13.8%), followed by the French (11.2%) and Italians (9.4%). Spaniards make up the largest group at 17.5% of all visitors.
In 2022, the foundation’s income was €100.7m, of which €53.9m was used for the ongoing building work. The rest of the cash is either saved or used for future work or local projects.
Under an agreement signed between the Spanish government and the Vatican in 1979, the foundation does not have to publish accounts or pay tax.
It only has to declare income from the gift shop, while the income from visitors is treated as donations.