Barcelona says the Sagrada Familia lacked a building permit. Construction is expected to be finished in 2026. (Daniel Rodrigues for The New York Times)
The Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona has worldwide fame as an architectural treasure, the dreamlike masterpiece of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, which draws millions of visitors a year though it is still under construction, 136 years after work began.
What it has not had for more than a century, according to the city, is a valid building permit.
The Sagrada Familia basilica has agreed to pay city authorities 36 million euros, or about $41 million, over 10 years to settle the dispute over the legality of the work and help pay for transportation improvements around the basilica.
Using the permit as leverage, the administration of Barcelona’s far-left mayor, Ada Colau, took on the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia’s board said that it had a building permit — one issued in 1885 by Sant Martí de Provençals, which was an independent town at the time. Barcelona officials contend that after Sant Martí was absorbed into the city several years later, the construction required a Barcelona permit; the board says that for more than a century, no one asked for any such thing.
Work began in 1882 on the Sagrada Familia, whose radical design, incorporating elements of Gothic revival, Art Nouveau, modernism and Asian art, has been compared to everything from a Dr. Seuss drawing to an underwater forest of kelp and coral.
Gaudí died in 1926, with the project only about one-quarter complete, and for decades after his death, progress was slow, sporadic and often intensely debated. But the pace of work picked up in recent years. The Sagrada Familia is over two-thirds completed, and planners hope to finish it in 2026, in time for the centenary of Gaudí’s death.
The Sagrada Familia is visited by over 10,000 people a day and is Barcelona’s most famous monument. (Albert Gea/Reuters)
Critics contend that the Sagrada Familia has drifted too far from the vision of Gaudí — some of his plans were destroyed long ago — or that it has more appeal as one of the world’s greatest unfinished monuments.
Even incomplete and surrounded by scaffolding and building cranes, Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s most famous monument, visited by over 10,000 people a day.
Ms. Colau and her administration accused the basilica of working without a building permit, failing to submit required plans to tear down existing homes to finish an esplanade, and failing to pay construction taxes.
The city’s complaints struck a nerve in a country where the church had registered thousands of properties as tax-exempt, leading to claims of tax evasion and a debate over how the church spends tourism revenue.
The deal calls for city authorities to go ahead with transportation infrastructure work around Sagrada Familia, including a feasibility study to build a passageway linking the basilica directly to the closest subway station. The agreement did not settle the dispute over the planned seizure of nearby homes.
But the basilica will, at last, have a building permit.