Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia needs ‘miracle’ to meet 2026 completion deadline

Coronavirus restrictions have all but eliminated visits to Gaudí's basilica, which is funded through entrance fees. Officials had meant to finish in time for the centennial of the architect’s death

The tower of the Virgin Mary will look very different after completion.
José Ángel Montañés

The Covid-19 pandemic has dashed the dreams of completing Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia basilica by 2026, to coincide with the centenary of the death of its architect, Antoni Gaudí.

Although construction officials had long promised that the iconic temple would be finished by that date, plans have been set back by a lack of visitors, particularly foreign ones, who represent 94% of the total.

Entrance fees and private donations finance the temple’s construction, and based on last year’s visitor figures of 4.5 million, the revenue forecast for this year was in the range of €103 million, of which €55 million was going to be used to build several large spires still missing from the top of the building.

But following months of coronavirus-related restrictions and a sharp drop in tourism, the 2020 budget has been scaled down to €17 million.

“Unless there is a miracle, work will not be completed by 2026 as previously expected,” said Esteve Camps, executive chairman of the foundation Junta Constructora del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, which is in charge of preserving and completing the landmark building. Camps spoke at a news conference last Wednesday ahead of the start of the La Mercè festivities in the Catalan capital, which took place over the weekend. During the three-day celebrations, which began on September 18, the basilica offered free entry to 12,000 people.

If Covid-19 measures allow it, we’ll have just enough time to complete the Tower of the Virgin Mary in the last months of 2021
Esteve Camps, executive chairman of Junta Constructora del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Construction work was interrupted this year on March 13, coinciding with the introduction of a state of emergency in Spain. Camps said that work will resume “in 15 days, or three weeks at the most.” But neither he nor chief architect Jordi Faulí offered a new completion date.

“In 2021, with the remaining money, besides paying our share of the salaries of furloughed workers, we will be able to finish the tower of the Virgin Mary, the second tallest at 138 meters high.”

These officials said that most of the work on this tower is already done save for 25 remaining meters for the pinnacle and a large 12-point star of glass and steel that will crown the spire and light up at night.

“The stone and steel have already been purchased,” noted Camps. “If Covid-19 measures allow it, we’ll have just enough time to complete the Tower of the Virgin Mary in the last months of 2021.”

One of the points of the star that will crown the tower of the Virgin Mary.
One of the points of the star that will crown the tower of the Virgin Mary. JUAN BARBOSA

Faulí displayed images of Gaudí's original workshop, which contained scale models of polygonal stars hanging from the ceiling, similar to the one that will crown the tower.

Camps explained that in July 2019, the site had a daily average of 15,600 tourists. This year, there were 2,000 visitors in the entire month of July. “If you extrapolate that to the current situation, you will see that we can only open on Saturdays and Sundays, as long as a bare minimum of tickets have been sold, because the security and visitor health costs are double what we make from entrance fees,” he said.

“I would like to remind everyone that this building is made possible thanks to private donations,” said Camps, announcing a fundraising drive for November. “There have been worse times; construction was even halted during the Civil War, but to a greater or lesser extent, Gaudí's project continued to become a reality. And now will not be an exception. We remain committed and hopeful. The temple will be completed.”

English version by Susana Urra.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS