Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona Masterpiece, and Scofflaw?

The basilica will pay $41 million to settle a dispute over taxes, infrastructure and a building permit the city says the church should have gotten a century ago.

Comments: 62

  1. I was with an architect friend of mine last time I was in Sagrada. He had never been. I kept telling him, "Just wait until you see this". After being inside for a couple of minutes I asked him what he thought. He turned to me and said, "Leave me alone. I'm having a religious experience". And he is not a religious man. Talk of building permits or taxes is like asking the Pyramids for the same. It is a global treasure.

  2. @Mikeyz is there an entrance fee? Or is it free to get in ? If revenue producing why is it exempt from paying taxes ? Bus lines, subways, sewers etc need to be provided if it's such a big tourist draw. Why do religious structures get to pass go and collect $200 but never need to pick the card from the community chest that says "pay the city $200 for taxes". This isn't based on some judgement of merit or spiritual worth, it's assuring all inhabited space gets to pull the Civic oar.

  3. @Mrf Tickets are currently 29 euros per person. You pay to basically enter a construction site. There are no refunds if you get there and realize that you're not in an actual, functioning cathedral. Apparently, many people have had moving experiences being inside this construction zone. But when my wife and I were there a few years ago, all we could feel is that we were ripped off for about $70. Others may feel differently, but to me it was a big waste of time and money. There are much better ways to spend both in Barcelona.

  4. @Mrf It cost between 24 to 29 euros for admission depending on which tour package you select.

  5. The easiest way to undermine a valid policy - cracking down on abuse of tax-exempt properties - is by tying it to something so silly as demanding the Sagrada Familia get a building permit. It's the most popular tourist destination in Barcelona. It's been under construction since the 19th century. The building has paid for itself countless times over and the city has obviously known about this construction every second of every minute of every day of every year since it began. Shameless money grab, nothing more.

  6. There is an available Science Channel "Building Big" program (Season 1, Episode 7) titled "The World's Tallest Church" about La Sagrada Famila that will prove interesting both for those not otherwise familiar with this structure and also for those (such as myself) who have long admired the project. While I have seen many photos of the Basilica this video has very extensive views of both the exterior (including aerial shots) and the interior. It also delves into the engineering, which goes far beyond anything Gaudi could have envisioned. Barcelona probably does have a valid point about the building permit. Current construction techniques have little in common with those that would have been used when the project was initiated. Even churches need to conform to building codes for public safety reasons.

  7. This is possibly the ugliest religious structure in Europe. No one who has not approached and entered it can appreciate its fatuous mediocrity. It is mostly cast concrete, which gives it the feel of a comic book concept erected by a movie studio as the lair of intergalactic villains. The facade figures are grotesque and kitchy; Robert Hughes's amusing critique is unsurpassed. By any rational lights the city should use the lack of building permit as legal authority to have the thing torn down. It is a soulcrushing abomination.

  8. ..Using the permit as leverage, the administration of Barcelona’s far-left mayor,... The left does not like religion in Spain. In the Spanish Civil War, the left killed 13 Bishops ,many hundreds of priests , and thousands affiliated with the Catholic faith

  9. @Gerhard And the Spanish Inquisition was the dress rehearsal for the Final Solution.


  11. Come on, they should have grandfathered in the original permit. This seems like a money grab to me. The church is absolutely awe inspiring and puts one in a peaceful frame of mind. I couldn't speak while I was there. It was truly a religious experience for me when I saw the light coming through the stainless windows. (Normally, I am uninterested in religion.) Every detail is carefully thought out and beautifully crafted. This was worth the airfare to Spain.

  12. As an architectural student who greatly admired and studied this structure way back in the 70's and 80's, I too was greatly moved by my recent experience of actually being in and around the space. Obviously, there will be those that do not understand or like Gaudi's design, just like there are people that have a difficult time appreciating modern art or music. For me, personally witnessing this amazing work by an architectural genius was more than a spiritual experience having nothing to do with religion. It validated my own thoughts on how a well designed architectural space must do so much more than simply provide a shelter or surround in our lives. How tragic that Gaudi's untimely death prevented the world from seeing what other awesome masterpieces his artistry would have provided us with.

  13. I was there a month ago, the fifth time I've gazed upon La Sagrada Familia's grandeur. The church makes a lot of money from admissions and the sale of souvenirs. Ten-thousand people visit every day. At midday last month, admissions were sold out for the day. A lot of Barcelona's city services help make Gaudi's masterpiece the top tourist-destination in the city. The city provides the foundation for all that money-making. Why should Barcelona not be compensated? $41 million is a drop in the bucket.

  14. @Alan Gary Yes, I'm absolutely sure that the citizens of Barcelona love the building. I also imagine that most of them would prefer that it (and the attendant revenues) belonged to the city....just as surely as the city has only fairly recently begun to regulate and truly profit from the crushing cruise-ship boatloads of tourists. -----david terry

  15. My family was lucky enough to have visited Sagrada Familia in August. It was absolutely stunning, and I hope to return to see it when it's complete. Like many, I have seen and enjoyed many lovely cathedrals throughout Europe. But the Sagrada Familia, despite the fact that it's so busy and even noisy due to the tourists, is special in that it conveys an unusual other-worldly beauty largely through the way sunlight interacts with it, inside and out. Its beauty stops and stills you in your tracks. It's probably my favorite cathedral in the world, and Gaudi's other masterpieces in Barcelona also were an unexpected delight. Barcelona should treat these treasures with the respect they deserve, and should safeguard them -- if they want to keep the tourist dollars coming, that is.

  16. The construction stages have actually been breathtaking in beauty. In a city with so many Guadiana structures, this is one of the gems. It also complements the feeling of the works in largest Miro museum in the world--another gem in gorgeous Barcelona.

  17. Oops. Automatic spellcheck massacred Gaudi's name in my comment.

  18. After traveling around Spain back in 1999, I remember how I was in the only Church still under construction! Such an enjoyable visit!

  19. The fee sounds outrageous on its face, especially if the previous governing body issued a valid permit. We like to criticize the US for everything these days, but we have a legal system that would likely prevent municipal bullying on that scale from happening without consequences over here.

  20. @MWR Air rights for skyscrapers around Central Park easily top $40M figure. Given the size of Sagrada Familia and the expansion of the scope of the original Gaudi plans and impact on infrastructure, I don't think this is unreasonable.

  21. Have you ever tried to get a permit from the NYC DOB?

  22. Yeah! And while we're at it let's get Stonehenge, the Pyramids, The Great Wall Of China and that Vatican, too! - and Jefferson's plantation! The Panama Canal! The Coliseum! The Winter Palace! etc., etc., etc......

  23. @rosa Unless I'm completely misinformed, all of those sites you've cited (sorry) are, in fact, publicly/nationally/civically owned......with the exceptions of Monticello (belongs to the foundation) and, obviously, the Vatican (although that's a murky one; presumably, the buildings belong to the Sovereign State of The Vatican. I'm not at all sure whom one would sue if, say, one were injured there.....the Church or the Sovereign State, and what's the legal difference?)

  24. @david terry You're absolutely right, David Terry. I was only focusing on the building permit (on a building that has been standing for 100 years) and never gave a thought to the tax exemption or that, as another commenter pointed out, it charges 35 Euros per person to enter this "church". And, is it a "private church"? Now, too late, I am curious: How many other "churches" are there, worldwide, where an entrance fee is charged? Anyways, my bad, David. I meant to scoff at a tree - and missed the entire forest!

  25. The Catholic Church, like many churches around the world, enjoys tax and monetary privileges no individual or business can expect to receive. While that may be acceptable to some, the fact that the church has spent almost two millennia amassing astounding riches while many of its adherents continue to live in n abject poverty is appalling. My exposure to this hypocrisy was in the early sixties, living in Sevilla as a child of an American Air Force serviceman. The church expected the poorest to tithe 10% of the miniscule amounts they had while the priest wore garments dripping with gold and silver. Even at the age of ten it was clear to me that the church exploited its massive power to enrich itself and only paid lip service to its poor. There may be many good priests and nuns, but the institution is just another white male power center.

  26. So true From the beginning the Catholic faith… Any faith it seems is one of moneymaking and enrichment. As an old boss used to say ,the church is all about money; 'Why not just have the state (as in Germany) pay their wages and no more further input from the people.'

  27. @Nasty Curmudgeon fr. I''m a devout (or at least I try to be) Anglo-Catholic. My partner (a nominal French Roman Catholic, who's half Jewish) and I were both just.......stupified and sorta horrified, on our first trip to Andalusia, to walk into the sacristies of the cathedrals of Seville and Granada..........and to SEE those mountains of gold and silver.....twelve foot high monstrances and God knows what else....and all of it actually ugly, as "art".. We're both devout and scarcely anti-clerical, anti-church/whatever.......but the first words out of his mouth were "I can see why so many people HATE the church.....". I'm American, of course, and have never been to South or Central America or Mexico..........and, standing there in the Seville Cathedral's sacristy, I couldn't help but wonder what so many impoverished folks from those lands would think to see all this looted treasure. It was extremely dispiriting, to say the least. sincerely, david Terry

  28. @Nasty Curmudgeon fr. In our country everything is about the money...

  29. Does every building under construction when a neighborhood is absorbed is absorbed face a requirement to get a new permit?

  30. @Mark Glass When a city is absorbed by another, I guess there is an administrative transfer, plus the church is rich anyway, pay...

  31. I have been there twice. It's the ugliest monstrosity I have ever seen. It should torn down as soon as possible. I cannot fathom why anybody is committing resources to do more construction on it.

  32. @John Mardinly - Why would you go there twice if you find it to be so repulsive? FYI, Antoni Gaudi is widely considered by architects to be one of the most unique and original designers of the last two centuries, but thanks for sharing.

  33. @Dav Mar I'm sure John has a few architectural jewels to admire in Chandler, AZ.

  34. @Dav Mar Maybe he wants to visit one more time just be confirm his disgust. In the mean time, it enchants many.

  35. There are myriad examples of religious organizations and corporations abusing tax laws to basically get away with murder in the public sphere. This is not one of them. The Sagrada Familia is one of the world's greatest architectural treasures. I was there a month ago and could barely speak inside. I didn't want to leave despite almost missing our return flight. It's that moving. To go after an institution that is racking in untold amounts of tourist revenue via other channels (restaurants, hotels, souvenirs) seems to me like little more than a small-minded money grab. I can't imagine, if one were to track down the building permits of every original structure in other European cities like Paris, London, or Zurich, what type of bizarre pseudo-jurisdiction had issued them construction permission. The reason that cities have never gone after other old properties? A silent yet decent understanding that the city allowing the Sagrada Familia to complete construction (or the Louvre to install new air conditioning, or the Belvedere Palace to upgrade its lighting) is a mutually beneficially enterprise. What a sad and misguided power play.

  36. @Solaris 40 Million Euros payable in 10 years is nothing for the Catholic Church...

  37. @Solaris Oh, this is a simple question to answer. The Belvedere palace belongs no longer to The House of Savoy (Good Luck on that one), but to the Austrian government, which pays its bills. The buildings and entire institution/collection of the Louvre belong entirely to the French people (as opposed to the French government). Notre Dame Cathedral, somewhat in contrast, belongs to the French state....although it was returned, by Napoleon, for use by the Archbishopric of Paris. Malraux's 1963 restoration would have raised a lot of hackles in France if the building belonged to the RC church. The current financial arrangements are quite clear to the public. In England?.....Canterbury Cathedral belongs, oddly, enough to itself, receiving no funding from either the government or The Church of England at large. Other prominent church's (such as St. George's chapel at Windsor), as I recall, are classified as "church peculiars" and, therefore, both funded and maintained by the crown. Let's not get into the Redundant Churches List. In short, England and France had either a revolution or a reformation.....thereby reconsolidating church property. Spain had a revolution, of course, but the fascists and the centralized RC church in Madrid no reformation (to say the least). As for Zurich?....I have no idea what the Swiss do with their churches (I do know that they export their reformationists) and/or money. I gather that no one really knows......... advisedly, david terry

  38. This is the most boring tourist spot in Barcelona. See Gaudi's work done for the private sector; skip this unfinished elephant. And all churches should be taxed, especially those in the USA. George Carlin, we miss you!

  39. @Jersey jazz, Perhaps you are right, but standing on one of the elevated balconies of Gaudi's most famous creations was anything but boring, and the cause of vertigo in 1982.

  40. Am I alone in liking Casa Milà better? I found the church a hot mess, too literally within the cathedral tradition to be really revolutionary, but too chaotic to be a moving sacred space.

  41. I’ve donated,ever since Pesetas,Duros-Euros,Lucky of me, Still with enough to attend Basilica SanPedro at Vaticano as well ,But Sagrada Familia, It is Incredibly Beauty,Another Corner Stone for our Faith. So I wonder how come from Ms Colau to Several of the comments it’s only about money and derogatory comments, bypassing the master mind of Gaudy, The Narrative lacks, that this works as being possible,only anonymous donations as a Norm, which for me, means ; the Power of Faith from us believers. unimaginable not to mention the master hands of hundreds thousands of hours,of Strong Hard work from committed man power, so there in spite of all venom against it “La Sagrada Familia”. is Right There.

  42. Seems like a short-sighted way of extorting money from a revenue-generating site that more than half of Barcelena owes its income from. La Sagrada Familia is a major tourist attraction and one of the reasons people visit Barcelona. I can't believe the city of Barcelona would try to use an alleged lack of a "building permit" against a site that pre-dated both the existing city government and the structures now surrounding it (see this pic from 1905 If this structure can be taken apart and transported elsewhere, we in the US will gladly take it off Barcelona's hands. Unlike in Europe, the US does not have a glut of beautiful cathedrals dotting its cityscapes. It would be such a joy to have such an architectural marvel here.

  43. @EM. But we have a lot of people who don't like and avoid paying taxes due, plus do you think Americans would appreciate the Sagrada Familia? They'll probably call it the devil's work.. Plus we already have Disneyland..

  44. @EM, You may wish to visit the great Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, and the history of the above is of interest. Enjoyed seeing this magnificent monument, when Dean Morton was working hard for its preservation. The first time I saw La Sagrada Familia was in 1958 and my first true introduction to surrealism. Homage to Gaudi and Catalonia.

  45. "After a Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez,.." A money grab orchestrated by someone who nobody elected.

  46. @Bruce : What?? Of course the prime minister was elected. Search for "parliamentary democracy" and educate yourself.

  47. @BruceNo now, Ms. Colau, the city mayor, who "orchestrated the money grab", was elected.... The Catholic Church makes a ton of money from tourism in Spain, they should pay taxes...

  48. @Steve Bright Nope Pedro Sanchez was not elected, educate yourself please. "On 1 June 2018, a Royal Decree named Pedro Sánchez Prime Minister of Spain and he was .."

  49. I have visited the Sagrada Familia in person, and I was pleasantly surprised. The exterior doesn't photograph well ... It doesn't look like a dripping Chianti bottle candle in real life at all. And the the interior is luminous ... If you take an elevator to the top of one of the towers, you can walk the circular staircase down, and we had it virtually to ourselves. The views from the towers are impressive as well, and the chance to admire the carved (or cast?) details on the exterior up close. Would I like to see it someday NOT under construction? Of course! Is it a cheap date? No! But it seems like most Barcelona's tourist attractions are quite expensive. Console yourself with perimeter park around the Park Güell (free) or Montjuic (reasonably priced funicular or public bus to the top), or Ciutadella Park (free, stunning fountain), or get lost in El Born. Et cetera.

  50. Why does the Church not see it self as part of the community? They use the streets and other infrastructure of the City, but consider themselves apart...... Good neighbors are the scaffolds of communities.

  51. It's sad when government resorts to such blatant money grabbing, but, Hey, the Church has been getting away with it for centuries by instilling blind faith over truth.

  52. The underlying argument: they never got a building permit is wonderfully absurdist. It is somehow fitting when applied to this defiantly over the top meld of art forms. But the notion of seeking that the Catholic Church pay its way is completely legitimate: it should support the services provided by ( the the people of) Barcelona and Catalunya. The revenue from tourism should be, at the least shared. However they handle tax exempt status there, I have no idea -- but the Church should also have to submit "transparent" accounts of their revenue and expenditures for public review.

  53. @cheryl You know, you might want to think of your argument in reverse - "The revenue from tourism should be....shared", you say. Well, at 10,000 toursits a day (as the article says) how many people does the existence of the Cathedral bring to Barcelona? Do those people pay for hotel rooms, eat at restaurants, buy things, overall - boost spending in the local economy? I would say yes. So why doesn't Barcelona share that with the Church?

  54. Given the amount of tourism revenue that this wonderful structure has brought to Barcelona, I think the City should be paying the Basilica, not the other way around.

  55. I don't have a clue why churches get tax breaks. that goes double for the catholic bunch and their disgusting behaviour all over the planet. as for Sagrada familia, when i visited Barcelona i couldn't decide whether it was a masterpiece or garish beyond belief.

  56. Maybe they filed it with the NYC DOB and are still waiting for the permit. Totally possible. A hundred years is nothing.

  57. I lament comments below smearing a faith in connection with this controversy. This is more an administrative and political issue than whether this faith or any faith does anybody any good. I have been there - though not exactly smitten by it - indeed it is a piece of history - a masterpiece - may be, in the eye of the beholder. I am no lawyer but in our jurisprudence something similar to "starri decisis" - is there not a concept of de jure and de facto. That is sometimes de facto over rules de jure. I agree with a couple of comments below that as the city's biggest tourist attraction - it is the city which should be paying. Finally, as a note to the reporter, it would have been informative as to why this "familia" name came to be.

  58. The world gave the permission and is something beyond mundane rules.

  59. If you do not see the genius behind this master piece I do pity you.It is not religion is pure beauty and great architecture.

  60. Its wonderful to see how different we all are. Some love it, but I thought it was the ugliest building I have ever seen.

  61. The money spent would be of better use tearing down one of the ugly buildings I have ever seen, but if the church wants to reduce the tax burden hire a Chicago Alderman or Mike Madigan speaker of the Illinois House it works for rich people in Chicago.

  62. Wonder what toppings Gaudí would order at the new Five Guys practically touching the nativity façade.