New Controversy for the Sagrada Familia

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been following with some concern construction on the high-speed AVE train tunnel close to the foundations of the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family – more commonly known as the Sagrada Familia – in Barcelona. The massive church designed by architect Antoni Gaudí, which will be the tallest in the world when completed, is set to be dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI this November. However, many voices in Spain and around the world have been raised in protest with respect to a construction project taking place only a few meters away from the foundations of the church, which will bore a giant train tunnel through this quarter of the city.

The Spanish press is reporting this morning that an increased level of disagreement may have an impact on whether the project can continue. The National Court of Spain has been asked to intervene and stop the tunneling on several occasions, but it has always allowed the project to continue. Now the union of construction workers employed on the project has filed their own request for an injunction with the Ministry for Development, and the Court is taking up the issue again.

Professor Manuel Melis, who is known as the father of Madrid’s underground subway system, was asked by the Court, along with two other experts, to give an opinion on whether work should be halted on the tunnel. Dr. Melis has responded that the placement of the tunnel so close to the Sagrada Familia is “an unnecessary risk,” and believes that the tunnel should be re-routed away from the church. Some have complained that the cost of moving the course of the train at this stage in construction would be too great, but Dr. Melis disagrees, saying that the risk of “damage to the church, although remote, would have an economic and social cost greater than that of modification of the course.”

The Court has taken Dr. Melis’ opinion under advisement, and we are waiting to hear what the other two experts have to say about the matter. It continues to amaze me that Spanish authorities would proceed with this project knowing full well what the impact of their decision could be. Let us hope that the train, vital as it may be for economic development in Catalonia, gets moved away from the Sagrada Familia before any risk of damage takes place.

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