As you climb higher, the smell of welding fades. The stairs are vertiginous: Voids reveal a thousand ways to tumble to the ground. Barcelona is a city of vistas. But the view from the summit of La Sagrada Família is incomparable.
``The tree outside my workshop, this is my master," said Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), the church's Catalan architect. Today, the warped-Gothic fantasy he began in 1884 is barely half-finished. Swarming with artisans, it seems almost to grow as you watch: as big as a mountain, yet as organic and airy as a sea shell , a colossal, exuberant explosion of color and form. Everywhere stone drips, pinnacles soar, mosaics glisten, and tantalizing balconies jut from the verticals.
Best of all, the filigree towers are riddled with staircases. From soaring buttress-bridges you can watch workers on the roof, gaze at the Mediterranean city below, or admire architectural features invisible from the ground: frogs, salamanders, shellfish, snakes, and a cedar tree packed with giant white marble doves.
Asked why there was so much detail so high up, Gaudí replied, ``The angels will see it."
When they finish Sagrada Família -- possibly in 2026 -- its highest tower will rise 560 feet. My advice is, visit now. Then you can tell your children you saw one of the wonders of the world under construction.
La Sagrada Família, Calle Mallorca, 401, Barcelona. 011-34-93-207-3031. By subway to Sagrada Família station on the Blue Line L2 or Purple Line L5. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. October-March, till 8 April-September. Adults $10, youths, students $6.