GIRONA is small in size, in fact it’s the smallest of Catalunya’s four provincial capitals, but this city of 70,000 has plenty to attract visitors, including one of the most charming riverside city frontages in Spain.
It is easily reached from Barcelona – 100 km. north towards France – and a day trip will probably be sufficient to cover its impressive collection of historical monuments, acquire a better knowledge of Catalunya’s history and enjoy some good food.
Girona has one of Catalunya’s richest historical patronages – its Jewish quarter is known world-wide. The part of town just behind the cathedral, which served as home to the city’s Jew’s during the Middle Ages, was walled over following the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492.
The discovery of Girona’s modern Jewish quarter began only a decade ago, after the death of Franco and the democratic opening to religions other than Catholicism. This was when Girona uncovered and began restoring the call, as the ghetto was known during medieval times. The Jews in Girona were known around the world for their learning and erudition, and particularly for their studies of the kabbala, a Jewish mystical system of thought that owes much to medieval scholars from Girona. The narrow, steep streets of the call still echo the presence of those deep thinkers.
Girona was amongst the last to give in during the Spanish civil war, but in spite of its resistance it remained remarkably un-damaged, preserving its heritage. In addition to the Jewish Quarter, there is a spectacular medieval cathedral, Santa Maria, and evidence of Moorish influence as seen in the Arab baths that date from the Middle Ages.
The city’s cathedral was started in the 14th century, incorporation earlier, smaller constructions, which are now museums showing early religious art, and the Sant Pere de Galligants monastery.
Abundant information about the epoch is available from the local tourist authority, in English, but even a brief visit to the city should include the Isaac El Cec (Isaac the Blind) centre and museum, named Bonastruc Ça Porta in the heart of the call. This will give the visitor an idea of how important the Jewish presence was in Spain during the Middle Ages.
The Arab Baths, of course, are the other reminder of early influences. Built in the late 12th century, some time after the Moorish occupiers had departed, the baths as preserved show how strong the Arab presence also was in Girona and Catalunya.
If you don’t want to make more than a gesture towards cathedrals, history, or Jewish quarters, a short walk around the houses by, and bridges over the Onyar river will be a treat. Follow it with a meal – if a carnivore like me, try something involving the excellent beef from the province.
Whatever your tastes, you are likely to enjoy a day spent in Girona.