You just can't rush genius

Barcelona's heart remains unfinished after 130 years - but it still takes Shaney Hudson's breath away.

IT'S hard to work out whether you are in a church or a building site.

Late-afternoon sunlight shines through stained-glass windows as electrical sparks shower down from the scaffolding above. Move further inside and you're likely to trip a little on the unfinished concrete floor, look up and you'll see what appears to be a tree canopy holding up the roof. Walk through one door and you'll see a rigid, angular sandstone facade, exit through the other and you'll see intricate, gothic detail.

It's unfinished, innovative, and moving: if there is only one thing you must see in Barcelona, it is La Sagrada Familia.

The almost 130-year-old cathedral is the emotional and physical heart of Barcelona and the life work of Antoni Gaudi, the architect who shaped the city at the turn of the century with a style influenced heavily by nature.

What remains so special about the landmark is that it has been under construction since 1882 - and is not expected to be completed until about 2026.

Despite the tourist and construction hubbub, the church is a peaceful place. The nave is open for visitors with a small display including a model showing what it will look like finished.

But the thing that you cannot miss is the trip to the top of the church's towers. Those who endure the two-hour wait are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city, a chance to see the exquisite detail of Gaudi's work and a better understanding of the epic scale. Elevators lift you to the tip of one of the eight constructed towers and the journey down is on foot via steep staircases that curl down the two towers and interconnect by a series of open stone walkways.

One side looks out over the rooftops and suburbs, while the other oversees the massive construction effort taking place underfoot. While the interior is still largely a skeleton, its exterior shows off Gaudi's distinctive style. Out of one window a mosaic of strawberries, each the size of a football, is perched on top of a turret; a few steps down an unfinished glittering mosaic of golden grain stalks clusters on another. Flower mosaics the size of car tyres jut out from the walls.

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Looking down on the streets below, you'll notice many people looking up - a Gaudi intention.

On the ground, what is most striking is the church's unifying effect: Catholics cross themselves as they enter, an artist with a full sleeve tattoo sketches in one corner, a woman in a hijab takes snapshots, while a woman in a sari leaves the gift shop with souvenirs. The simple message printed on your admission ticket explains it best: "The temple of the Sagrada Familia is everybody's and yours too."

Trip notes

Need to know

La Sagrada Familia is at Carrer de Mallorca 401, Barcelona, and is open from October to March, 9am-6pm, and April to September 9am-8pm. Entry is €12 ($17). English-language tours run at 11am and 1pm daily and cost an extra €5. An audio guide is useful and costs €6. See sagradafamilia.org for more information, including service times.

The church is still under construction and not readily accessible to those with physical disabilities. While a lift takes you up, the long walk down consists of tight, steep staircases and a number of older visitors were caught out during the author's visit.

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