Girona is a city about an hour and a half outside of Barcelona. The city was founded by the Romans and one can also see Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque structures in a contained historic district. It has one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe.
The city of Girona is between four rivers though two of them were widened to prevent flooding. It’s reminiscent of Florence with it’s bridges.
There were originally four rivers but to control flooding two of them were widened so that it drained the other two. The bridge you see looks old but was actually built in the 1970s.
St. Feliu Church at the entrance to the historic district shows the reconstruction that was necessary because Girona was the crossroads of conflict because of it’s geographical proximity to France, the Mediterranean coast, and other parts of Spain. Conflict came from France, Visigoths, Moors, and other Spanish rulers.
You can see the tower of St. Feliu over modern apartment buildings and a reconstructed wall below.
Facade of St. Feliu which shows elements of Baroque style but quite simplified compared to other churches of the time.
Remnants of a Roman wall seen in the stones of a more contemporary wall, with contemporary being something like 17th century.
Going through a Roman arch into the heart of the historic center.
Stone on the side walls show the remnants of the Roman origins. These are called ashlars and are similar to those found at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
It may be hard to imagine but this is the main Roman road built to link the parts of the empire. It’s amazing to think that roads built by the ancient Romans are still used by us today.
A Romanesque church that is now a film museum. You can see that this type of structure is not as tall or as ornate as the later Gothic structures.
Entrance to the Romanesque church (film museum). You can see why it is called Romanesque as it uses classical elements of arch and column but is not very embellished.
Octagonal buildings are also a hallmark of Romanesque architecture. This one marked the town cemetery and notice it’s right in the center of town (more on this later).
Since must of the historic center has been reconstructed with materials from various eras notice the lintel of this window “repurposed” from the hospital that says in Latin “Be ready” since going to the hospital in the 12th century usually meant you went right across the street to the cemetery when you left.
Another octagonal structure identifies a Romanesque building.
The lioness is the symbol for the city of Girona. If you get up to the lioness and kiss her bum you will for sure return to Girona.
The cathedral has the distinction of having the largest vault of any in Europe. To be honest if the guide hadn’t told us that I would not have noticed.
Compared to other Gothic structures this one is very unadorned. One thing to consider is that a city like Girona was not as well off financially as other cities so could not spend as much on construction of their cathedral.
Plaza in front of the cathedral. Below is the Jewish quarter.
Entering the Jewish quarter. Girona was home of one of the most important rabbis in Jewish history- Nachmanides also known as Ramban (not to be confused with Rambam/Maimonides). He was responsible for starting the Kabbalistic tradition.
One street of the Jewish quarter which was separated from the rest of the city. This narrow alley and the one in the next photo were only reopened in the 1970s. They were walled off before then.
This is the second alley. The community was protected by the king because the Jewish community provided financial assistance to the king. The church on the other hand was not so happy with the Jewish community and the Inquisition destroyed the community in the late 15th century.
This graffiti on the back wall of the Jewish museum. Just to remind us that the more things change the more they stay the same.
One of the synagogues and a few houses of the Jewish quarter have been converted to a very nice museum documenting the Jewish community of Girona.
The museum is on multiple levels with many artifacts and information documenting the height of Jewish society in this region of Spain.
The Mikveh (ritual bath) discovered recently in the basement of the synagogue.
Some water seeping into the mikveh confirmed what it was. So getting back to the cemetery from earlier, in 1391 the Black Plague killed 60% of the population of Spain. Most of the deaths were among Christians. The Jews were relatively unscathed. Why- simple, hygiene. Jews go to the ritual bath on a regular basis and wash their hands before and after eating. Jews also bury their dead outside of the city. The cemetery building at the beginning of this post was Christian and in the center of town. Of course, since the Jews were not affected by the Plague they must have caused it and so there was a pogrom against them. Many Jews died, those who had the means left Spain and others converted to Christianity though they continued to be Jews in secret.
A seven branched menorah from the 13th century similar to the one you see on the Arch of Titus in Rome if you are in the ancient art history class.
Oil menorahs of many types all from about the 16th to 18th centuries.
A scroll for Purim (a holiday commemorating the Jews of Persia being liberated). Interestingly the two columns right in the middle are about the evil Haman telling the king about the foreigners in their midst. This scroll called a megillah is from the 18th century.
A Ketubah (marriage contract)
A cornerstone from the synagogue (13th century) that helps to prove that the building was actually used by the community for a worship space.
A torah scroll (this one borrowed from a Jewish community elsewhere in Spain. Remember the nano bible the size of a grain of sugar. That contains everything on this gigantic scroll.
Tombstones from the Girona Jewish cemetery. More on what happens to gravestones in a future blog posting.