They say everything worthwhile takes time, and that's certainly true in the case of Barcelona's La Sagrada Familia, one of the longest-running construction projects ever. But the end is in sight, and we finally have a completion date for the city's crowning glory: 2026.

Designed by Antoni Gaudí, La Sagrada Família, Barcelona's top attraction, has remained a work in progress since 1882. It's now projected to be ready in 2026 (the exact date has yet to be confirmed), a remarkable 144 years after construction began, and will coincide with the centenary of Gaudí's passing.

Esteve Camps, president of the cathedral's construction board, said the board has the budget needed to complete the project, especially now that increased visitor numbers have bolstered ticket sales to fund it post-pandemic.

The last piece of the puzzle is the construction of the Tower of Jesus, one of the cathedral's 18 towers. When it's finished in 2026, it will soar to 172m, crowning La Sagrada Família as the world's tallest church and marking the completion of the project.

While the main construction will be wrapped up by 2026, certain aspects, like the construction of a controversial entranceway, will continue until 2034.

The church ceiling inside of La Sagrada Familia
The church ceiling inside of La Sagrada Familia © Nikada/Getty Images

What is the controversial entranceway?

El País reports that a faithful construction of Gaudí's original design includes a massive entranceway, necessitating the demolition of almost two blocks, including businesses and around 150 homes — directly impacting 3000 people. Camps argues that this entranceway was a crucial element of the original blueprint. When Gaudí first conceived the cathedral, the surrounding area was predominantly farmland. However, as the city has expanded around the historic site, the board says certain buildings must now be removed to uphold Gaudí's design.

However, according to Euronews, Barcelona City Council has the final say on construction plans and has not yet decided on the entranceway.

Why is it taking so long to complete La Sagrada Família?

Gaudí set out to build a church to reflect three phases in the life of Jesus Christ: the nativity, the passion and the glory. However, the work stopped short when a tram killed the architect in 1926. Following his death, a succession of architects tried to decipher his complex geometric designs and continue the project, but work halted several times, with parts of the church destroyed by fire in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. Finance was an issue for many years, but the construction is now funded through thousands of anonymous donations from around the world and money made from entry ticket sales. Today, the building is the most photographed piece of architecture in Barcelona. 

An interior view of the La Sagrada Familia with the light illuminating its stain glass windows
The interior light display, courtesy of sunlight and the cathedral's stained glass windows © Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

What makes La Sagrada Família special?

La Sagrada Família is seen as the most prominent example of Catalan modernism and the best-known work of Gaudí in a city adorned with his designs. The main facade and its crypts, where Gaudí himself is buried, are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Some liken its design to an underwater castle of coral or a masterpiece plucked from the pages of science fiction (particularly the interiors, which look more like the inside of a spaceship than a church). Others are less favorable, however, when comparing it to giant termite hills overlooking the city. George Orwell even called it "one of the most hideous buildings in the world" in his Spanish Civil War memoir Homage to Catalonia.

Whatever side you stand on, what's truly remarkable is that this cathedral was conceived in the late 19th century. This radical design concept starkly contrasts today's world, filled with uniform glass and steel structures. It begs the question: Has anything as unique been created in recent times?

This article was first published Dec 3, 2021 and updated Mar 26, 2024.

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