barcelona blues

Posted on May 10, 2007


If you’ve ever been to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, you’d understand why it’s the city’s top attraction, with more than 2 million visitors annually.

You’d also get the hype, as pictures don’t do justice to the way the gothic towers seem alive and breathing, looming eerily over visitors, while its intricate carvings transfix one to stare all day.

Besides being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Gaudi’s masterpiece is also easily one of the country’s most popular attractions and probably one of the most recognizable symbols of Spain. So what could possess the authorities to risk jeopardizing its top tourist attraction?


The cathedral, which has been around since 1883 and survived the Spanish Civil War, is now threatened by one of the most persistent and formidable forces ever: progress.

The authorities are building a tunnel for a high-speed train between Barcelona and the capital Madrid, which would half the present 5-hour trip. This tunnel is going to be 1.5 metres from the cathedral’s foundation, the IHT reports, with its exacavation likely to cause the water-logged earth to subside under the cathedral’s weight, leading to cracks on the exterior or 65-meter pillars that support the cathedral’s nave. Tiles from the cathedral’s ceilings could also fall off.

The authorities have taken a rather uncompromising stance towards the issue. Spain’s transport minister was quoted as saying she would be “very surprised” if the work didn’t go as planned.

Residents around the cathedral are reportedly fighting against the tunnel, fearing damage to their homes from the construction.

Academics have spoken out on the side of the cathedral, raising alarms on the insanity of potentially damaging one of the country’s most magnificent sights.

While it’s heartening to see Spain’s astonishing economic progess after the years of stagnation during the Civil War, this incident is rather uncharacteristic of the Spanish passion for living. Most visitors admire the Spanish way of life of working hard, but also living well and partying hard. But if an international icon were to give way to something as pedestrian as a high-speed train line between two Spanish cities, that would be thoroughly disappointing.

By all means build that train that would take businessmen faster between the two cities, but there has to be alternative routes that could be used to avoid damaging the Sagrada Familia. What makes Spain special is its cultural attractions and unusual architecture, not high-speed trains that are proliferating all over the world. It would be a sad day indeed when countries lose their unique features, all in the name of economic progress.