Spain defies vote to delay rail tunnel near Gaudi's masterpiece

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

For years, architects, engineers and Barcelona residents have been sounding the alarm: the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's unfinished modernist masterpiece and Spain's top tourist site, could be endangered by a government plan to build a high-speed rail tunnel only 13ft away.

Residents hung protest banners from windows. The architect in charge of turning Gaudi's blueprints into undulating, ceramic-coated reality called the tunnel "an attack on culture of the highest order". Activists filmed a simulation of the 20,000-tonne building's collapse, its spindly, twisting towers and exuberant sculptures turned to dust. The digging started in March, nevertheless.

Now the worriers have won a small victory. The Spanish parliament has voted to suspend construction "immediately" as a cautionary measure while independent experts devise an alternate train route that would link Barcelona with the French border without jeopardising the work of "God's architect", which is soon to be consecrated by the Pope.

"The government should reconsider what it is doing," said Joan Rigol, chairman of the Sagrada Familia Foundation, which aims to finish the church Salvador Dali once called a "tactile erogenous zone" by 2025. "The whole world thinks that there is a danger to the monument."

The vote is non-binding, but it exerts extra political pressure on the already beleaguered Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Following the vote, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works vowed that construction of the rail tunnel will continue with rigorous security measures, which include an underground protective barrier only 7ft from the Sagrada Familia's foundations. The minister, Jose Blanco, told parliament that starting from scratch with an alternate route would be too expensive and would delay Spain's high-speed link with the rest of Europe for two years.

"What good is democracy if the government ignores the will of the people?" said Pere Vallejo, head of the citizens' platform against the tunnel, after the vote. Mr Vallejo's group is not only concerned with the future of Gaudi's work of art. He's also worried about the fate of the 18,000 flats, like his own, that are also in the train tunnel's path.

Faced with the government's intransigence, the 80,000 members of the international Gaudi Beatification Society might pray to the architect for miracles. After all, the monk-like Gaudi, who died not as a martyr but as a victim of a traffic accident in 1926 at the age of 74, is considered a strong candidate for sainthood, his sensual rendition of the gospel seen as a tool to convert non-believers.

But the Sagrada Familia Foundation isn't waiting for divine intervention. It is about to file its sixth official complaint in the Spanish High Court in the hope a judge will order construction to halt permanently. Sagrada Familia architects and engineers fear that tunnel construction could shift the "slippery, sandy" ground beneath the church, which could cause part of the building to sink and lead to cracks, Mr Rigol said.

The vibrations of a bullet train could also damage the prized monument, a Unesco cultural heritage site that attracts three million visitors each year, especially Japanese tourists, the major donors to the church construction.

"Gaudi built without buttresses," he said. "The roof is made of many small stones, a technique know as trencadis, and any light movement could cause a great deal of damage."

A recent report by the International Council on Monuments and Sites praised the project for following EU technical and security standards, but called for an independent structural study of the building's foundations and urgent meeting between the Spanish government and Unesco heritage experts.

Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor