Volume 48, Issue 2
Even after seven hours of flight, it still didn’t feel like we were in Barcelona. Our legs were cramped and butts were sore, but it still felt as if we were in a dream. Our architecture study group got to the hotel and took a couple of hours to unwind before dinner. We awoke feeling refreshed and ready to explore the town, only to find it dark and rainy; our mood was as damp as the streets when we learned that we had to walk to the restaurant a few blocks away. The streets and sidewalks were soaked, wet with pouring rain. We saw people in a bar laughing and having a drink. I paused to watch them. They seemed so happy just enjoying the company of their neighbors and the fútbol game playing on the television. The restaurant felt miles away as we held our umbrellas, following in pursuit of our professor, who was now a block ahead of us. A few of us lost track of the group as we began to notice our surroundings. The details, such as wrought iron flowers budding on the gate and even the way the bricks were laid on the curb, was mesmerizing. Barcelonans took pride in their architecture.
We arrived at the restaurant and our Spanish welcome dinner. The food, like the city, was rich. On the way out we realized the rain had cleared. I stepped out onto the curb and noticed a change in the air. It felt like opportunity or possibility was upon us. We could now take our time walking back to the hotel and slowly observe the architecture.
Then, someone in our group informed us that La Sagrada Familia—Antoni Gaudi’s greatest work of architecture–was right in front of us. It had been raining so hard before that we didn’t realize we walked right by the unlit church. I braced myself, realizing that I would finally see this work in “real time,” a building I have studied since freshman year. Feeling excited, I took a deep breath and crossed the street to get the full view of the Sagrada. As I walked toward it, I tried not to peek. Then, with my back against its façade, I took a deep breath and spun around. Now lit with scaffolds high above the towers, I felt as if I were in the presence of greatness. It didn’t even feel like I was in Barcelona anymore, but as if I had transcended to another place. I have never been in such awe. I stood admiring Gaudi’s magnum opus intently, not even realizing that I was paying respect to a building. Under the deep indigo night sky, you could get a clear view of only the front facade. The rest of the building seemed hidden, draped by a sky-hung shroud of darkness.
There was so much detail everywhere. It seemed crazy, obsessive, that mere humans had dedicated themselves to carve these perfect figures. My eyes simply could not focus on one thing. I was drawn to every curve, every edge, every single detail. I was in the presence of something much, much bigger than me—not just physically bigger, but historically bigger, spiritually bigger.
Walking back to the hotel I thought about my experience with the Sagrada and couldn’t stop smiling. It now felt as though we had finally arrived in Barcelona. I suddenly realized that not only could a piece of architecture inspire me, it could change me as well.