Historic Girona

By | Category: Travel destinations

the indoor food market

Girona is one of those lovely, historical towns in Spain that are ideal to visit for a weekend break. There are direct flights, albeit very early in the morning, but it means that, for a short visit, you arrive early and can make the most of your day.

Everything a visitor could want to see is within walking distance and although the town, actually a city as it has a cathedral, is divided by the River Onyar there are numerous bridges to cross from the new to the old town.

Anyone with an interest in the food will find the undercover market, open in the mornings, filled with lots of enticing fruit, vegetables, fish, salamis and cheese, worth a visit. Sadly, however, there isn’t anywhere within its walls to taste any of the local delicacies.

When planning your day, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Spanish have their main meal at lunchtime, and the majority of shops, particularly in the old town, close between 1.30 pm and 4.30 pm.

The main reason for visiting Girona has to be to visit the Barri Vell or Old City that dates back to Roman times, and is a real gem. I still haven’t worked out why it isn’t an UNESCO World Heritage status, as it certainly deserves it. Ramparts of the fourteenth century walls that surrounded the city still exist today. On the top is a walkway where you can get a great view of the city. If you are curious, as I am, it will give you a good idea of the area looking down into gardens and courtyards.

The city is proud of its Jewish quarter, known as the Call with its narrow cobbled streets, and high stone walls. Jewish people lived in Girona from the middle of the 12th century until they were expelled in 1492. A museum of the History of the Jews, incorporating a Centre for Jewish Studies, has been built on the site of the last known synagogue. In its centre an open courtyard, has a menorah, a symbolic candelabra, and a sculpture by the artist Frank Meisler. Beside the Call, on the site of Roman temples, and with a climb of 90 steps is the Baroque cathedral of St Mary of Girona renowned for having the world’s widest Gothic nave. Inside is also a museum with a magnificent embroidered cloth tapestry dating back over one thousand years depicting the steps of the creation. From the cathedral, there was a backdrop of the pre Pyrenees Mountains towering in the distance.

On leaving, we came across a busker who serenaded us with songs, accompanying himself on a guitar.

Nearby the Capuchin Convent housed Arab baths that, in the twelfth century, were used as a place to socialise. Although built by Christians, they are similar to Muslim Hamans with several rooms of varying temperatures.

The town holds lots of festivals so before visiting it’s worth checking what’s on. I was once there in May when the city was decked out in a blaze of colour. September is the time to visit if you are a jazz lover.

Hopefully you will enjoy your visit so much that you will want to return so it’s important to find the statue of a lioness. Legend has it that if you kiss its bottom, you will return. Steps have even been placed at the bottom of the statue so that even the smallest person can!

the picturesque river frontage

Crossing the river, you spy one of the pettiest sights for, adorning the banks, are terracotta and pink buildings overlooking the water. Now four of them, once the family of architect Rafael Masó, have been opened as a museum. Masó’s work has been compared to the Arts & Crafts Movement in the UK. The home has been kept very much as it would have been in his lifetime, one hundred years ago. Masó’s father was an amateur painter who amassed a collection of paintings including two Goya’s.

Although on the side of the river which isn’t part of the old town, the Santa Clara runs parallel to the river and has a similar feel to the historic area, although filled with small individual shops. Parallel on the other side of the river in the old town the Rambla de Libertat is where locals come to socialise at the weekend. We were advised by our guide not to eat here, as not only is the food not authentic, but also the restaurants are overpriced. However, it is the best place to people watch, and on Saturdays there is the added bonus of a flower market.

A short drive from Girona is the Iberian town of Ullastret, the largest known settlement in Catalonia and the capital of the Iberian tribe. Dating back to the sixth century BC, the pre-Roman site was only discovered in the 1930s. Sadly, due to a lack of funds, only twenty percent of the site has so far been excavated. Digs show the remains of two towns or villages, laid out along the lines of a traditional fortified hilltop town. A museum, filled with treasures that they have unearthed, has a model layout of the area as it is thought to have been. This includes a lake, no longer in existence and a cemetery.

Besalu bridge

The medieval village of Besalú, formerly an Iberian settlement, is also within an hour’s drive of Girona. Accessed by an impressive 12th century Romanesque bridge over the River Fluvia, the old town has been preserved with cobbled streets and old buildings. A fun way of discovering the town is by a forty-minute miniature train. In 1264, the King allowed the Jewish people of Besalú to build a synagogue the remains of which have only been discovered in the last fifty years, together with a ritual bath, still intact which is thought to be the only one in Spain. In the main square there are the remains of the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere which was founded in 977. The only part remaining is the church.

Museum of Miniatures

For me, however, the place not to miss is the totally unique Museum of Miniatures. With three rooms of displays, the first shows a series of shop scenes in miniature; the second mini miniatures that need to be amplified with a magnifying glass. The third with micro-miniatures has pieces that can only be seen through a microscope such as the camel caravan passing through the eye of a needle.

For anyone who enjoys discovering antiquities, Girona and its surrounding areas will definitely captivate you.

Getting there:
easyJet, Ryanair, Vueling and British Airways all provide regualr services

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