Girona Travel Guide

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House in Girona old town

House in Girona old town

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Girona is located north of Barcelona in the Ter river valley, between the mountain massifs of Las Gavarres and Las Guilleries. Its strategic location favoured its original growth as an important stronghold, and its history is characterised by a seemingly never-ending list of military events which have immortalised its name. The 12C was characterised by the building of many outstanding Romanesque constructions. And during the Gothic period the city began to expand and enlarge its walled sections, which spread towards the districts that had grown up around the Roman part. Even during the 16C and 17C there was an increase in defensive construction, including fortresses, military barracks and other such buildings.

The magnificent walled area, which is preserved in almost its entirety, was last put to the test during the famous sieges of 1808-09 when it faced Napoleon's troops. In spite of everything, the strategic and defensive roles of the city did in no way impede the development of a historic centre of exceptional value. One fine example is the Cathedral, an enormous construction that was painstakingly built over many centuries.

The cloisters and the so-called Carlemany Tower contain some fine examples of Romanesque art. The Gothic nave, measuring 22.98m in width and 35.2m in height, is unique of its kind, while the main façade shows clearly Baroque influences. Inside, we find the Chapter Museum, containing such outstanding exhibits as a manuscript of the Apocalypse (10C) and the famous embroidery known as 'The Creation' ( 12C ).

Leaving the Cathedral the visitor can head for the former Episcopal Palace, today converted into an Art Museum, as well as several other medieval constructions. Other buildings of interest to be encountered include the Convent of Sant Doménec (14C-16C); the Church of Sant FéIiu, which has a Romanesque ground plan and a Gothic vault, and contains the Chapel of Saint Narcís -the city's patron saint; the 12C Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants -location of the Archeological Museum- and whose cloisters preserve an important collection of Jewish steles that came from the cemetery of the ancient Hebrew community who lived in medieval Girona; the Romanesque Chapel of Sant Nicolau: and finally the Convent of La Mercé -the present-day technical school. Civil architecture of interest include the so-called Pia Almoina, a medieval charitable institution: the Renaissance construction of the old University; the so-called Arab baths (12C); and the Fontana d'Or, an aristocratic mansion dating from the Romanesque period which has later Gothic additions. In addition, the streets in the 'old town' are full of buildings that belonged to the old aristrocracy of Girona -in particular around the area of La Força in Los Alemanys and Ciutadans streets.

The Jewish quarter, known as 'Call', runs parallel to La Força street and spreads out in a maze of small, narrow and very often steeply sloping streets which still maintain their medieval atmosphere. It was begun in the 9C, and, right up until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, was the home of a thriving community which once contained almost a thousand inhabitants. During the 13C, the Jewish community, who were most prolific businessmen, experienced a most important cultural and religious period, mainly thanks to the tremendous development of their superstitious arts. One of the great figures associated with this was Mosé Ben Nahmán, also known as Nahmánides or by his Catalan name of Bonastruça Porta.

The entire monumental heritage of Girona is complemented by a great deal of artistic works exhibited in the city's museums. Of particular importance is the Chapter Museum, where, apart from the already mentioned manuscript and embroidery, there is a magnificent collection of objects worked in silver and gold dating from the Gothic era, the sculpture of Sant Carlemany, the Arab arc of Hixem II, and several valuable religious pieces. Leaving, the Cathedral via the socalled 'Apostles' Door' (Puerta de los Apóstoles) we enter the former Episcopal Palace -location of the Art Museum. This contains some fine sculpture, gold and silverwork, paintings and sketches, as well as special rooms given over to works of art from medieval times. The Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants contains within it the Archeological Museum, with exhibits ranging from the lower Paleolithic era to the time of the Roman Empire, while inside the Convent of the Capuchin Sisters there is a Museum of the History of the City. The latter has rooms dedicated to prehistoric times, local crafts, the sardana (a typical dance), and industrialisation -mainly concerning the history of electric lighting and printing in Girona.

Today, Girona, apart from its historic charm, is a bustling, lively city, with a great variety of family businesses and shops that balance perfectly with its medium sized population (approx. 80,000 inhabitants ).

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July 05, 2007 change by lpx

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