BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia reopened on Saturday, giving frontline workers the chance to have the usually tourist-packed landmark to themselves in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
People took photos and listened to audio guides after Archbishop of Barcelona Juan Jose Omella led representatives of healthcare workers into the church.
The basilica, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, closed almost four months ago. But for the next two weekends it will be open to essential workers, including those in healthcare, the police and NGOs, who will be able to explore without the usual crowds.
The goal is to recognise and pay tribute to Barcelona residents, “especially those who have been on the front lines fighting and working to prevent Covid-19”, according to a statement on the basilica’s website.
“It’s the first time I’ve been and for me it represents a gift, a gift for the effort and the hours we’ve put in during the past few months, so I’m grateful,” said Virginia Martinez, a hospital doctor from the nearby city of Terrassa. “It’s recognition of our work and what’s better than visiting a monument like this?”
A second phase of reopening will see the lofty and famously unfinished church welcome Barcelona’s residents for free, while a third phase will allow domestic and international tourists to visit.
Started in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is the sixth most visited tourist attraction in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
The reopening came as Catalonia on Saturday enforced a new lockdown on more than 200,000 people after several new outbreaks of coronavirus were detected.
Residents in Segria, which includes the city of Lleida, around 150 km (90 miles) away from Barcelona, are not permitted to leave the area, but will not be confined to their homes as was the case during Spain’s strict lockdown at the start of the outbreak.
Spain has registered 205,545 coronavirus cases and 28,385 deaths, according to health ministry data, making it one of the worst affected countries in Europe.
(Reporting by Luis Felipe Castilleja and Jordi Rubio; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Mike Harrison)