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After 137 years of illegal work, La Sagrada Familia just got a building permit

One of the most famous cathedrals in the world has been un-permitted for decades. Here’s why.

After 137 years of illegal work, La Sagrada Familia just got a building permit
[Photo: Ant Palmer/Getty Images]

Along with Saint Peter’s and Notre-Dame, Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, might be the world’s most recognizable church. But ever since workers set its first stone in 1882, the construction has technically been illegal.

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Why? Well, the young architect Antoni Gaudí took over the project after the original architect, Francisco de Paula del Villar, resigned in 1883. Back then, the cathedral’s location was actually in the little town of Sant Martí Provençals. Gaudí asked for a construction permit in 1885, but it never arrived; the town was annexed by Barcelona in 1897 and the permitting process–like most things in the bureaucracy-plagued Spain–got lost in the shuffle.

[Photo: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket/Getty Images]

Work progressed, and Gaudí dedicated the rest of this life to its design and construction until his death in 1926. With only one quarter of the project complete, he was buried in the building’s crypt. The basilica endured a long series of delays and problems, including running out of money and anarchists torching it in the 1930s (along with Gaudí’s studios and many of his plans and drawings). In 1955, the project finally got some momentum, but it was only consecrated as a catholic church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010–and it’s still incomplete, with construction planned to continue into the late 2020s.

[Photo: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket/Getty Images]

In 2018, the Junta Constructora, which is the foundation that now oversees the construction of the basilica, bowed to pressure from officials and agreed to pay the city some $40.7 million to end the building’s legal limbo and compensate for the expense of tourists visiting the cathedral. And in March, it requested a building permit yet again. What will it cost for the project to obtain la licencia de obras, or a construction permit? The city has now established the building area to be 575,815 square feet, which is half a typical block in Barcelona, and the Junta will pay $5.2 million to finish its construction without any further legal problems.

Janet Sanz, the official in charge of urbanism for the city of Barcelona, told Spanish newspaper El País that it’s time to celebrate one of the most important objectives of Barcelona’s mayor, the leftist Ada Colau. The city has “finally ended an historic anomaly in our city,” Sanz said. “The basilica will have to pay like everyone else without any kind of privilege.” That’s great. Now perhaps the city will move on to its skyrocketing crime levels so we can all enjoy it safely.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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