Girona in Catalunya is a pretty historical city of Roman origins with one of the best-preserved medieval Jewish Quarters in Europe.
Located at the confluence of several rivers, Girona is a city snaked through by graceful waterways. All the city's vairious inhabitants through history have left their mark - even dating back to the Romans with part of the city's ancient wall still visible. In Roman times, a fortress stood here surrounded by a triangluar wall. The Moors ruled here for some time, before it was taken from them by Charlemagne, and made into a duchy. A large Jewish community flourished here in the 12th century and their home, El Call, is a beautifully preserved labyrinth of narrow streets and patios that are like stepping back in time to the Middle Ages. The Jews were expelled by the Catholic kings in the late 15th century, and under Spanish rule Girona was frequently besieged, most famously by the French in the Peninsula War. The 3 seiges by Napoleon's forces and seiges throughout its earlyier history has given Girona the nickname, the 'City of a Thousand Seiges'. Part of the city walls were demolished in the 19th century so that the city could expand but some of its has been reconstructed to form a tourist route.
The old town, known as Força Vella, has several important historical works of architecture that you cannot miss. The remains of the 9th century defensive walls are some of the longest Carolingian walls in Europe and have been reconnected to create the Passeig de la Muralla tourist route. Be sure to stop at some of the towers along the wall and take advantage of the excellent vantage point you have across the city. The Força Vella is also home to the 12th century Arab baths. Modelled after Roman baths, these baths have a beautiful cupola over the central pool that is supported by slim columns with ornately decorated capitals. Religious architecture is also prevalent in Girona and the cathedral has a mixture of styles including Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic - the Gothic nave of the cathedral is the widest of its kind in the world. It also contains a museum of religious artefacts in its treasury such as the Beatus manuscript and the Creation Tapestry. The church of Sant Feliu is a wonderful Gothic building with a slender bell tower that has been remarked to have a 'castle-like' appearance and houses some fantasitc religious art including 8 pagan and early Christian sarcophagi from the 4th century.
Uncover more of Girona's history but visiting some of its great museums such as the Museum of Jewish History which looks at the history of the Jews in Catalunya and Girona, especially, and has a unique collection of medieval tombstones from the city's Jewish cemetery. There is also a Museum of Archeaology inside the beautiful Romanesque building of the church of Sant Pere de Galligants - formerly a Benedictine monastery in the 12th century. Inside are archaeological finds in the area from prehistory to to the Roman times. Alongside the river Onyar are some very pretty houses painted in bright colours, a view which has become synonymous with the town. The Casa Masó is the only one of these houses open to the public and was the family home of the architect Rafael Masó in the late 19th and early 20th century. Culture, as well as history, is important in Girona and the city also has a Museum of Cinema tracing filmmaking from the first moving images and shadow theatres, to the cinema as we see it today.
Girona enjoys hosting many festivals throughout the year whether religious fiestas like Semana Santa (Holy Week) at Easter or cultural and historic festivals such as the Napoleonic Seiges Festival in November, the Cinema Festival in September and Gastronomy Week in March. There are lots of musical, artistic and performing arts events to to enjoy whatever time you visit. There is also plenty for those who like to spend some time out of doors with walking trails through woodlands, past small farms and up the mount of Sant Miquet, as well as river sports like kayaking and canyoning. You can even take a hot air balloon ride and see Girona from the sky!
There are lots of great shops from traditional stores, to designer boutiques and international brands. The main shopping area stretches from Carrer de la Barca in the old town to Carrer Emili Grahit in the more modern part of town. From April to June there are also lots of street markets with local shopkeepers selling their products outside. Don't miss the El Lleó food market with 60 stalls selling meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and other groceries. Even the city chefs shop here for their restaurants and it is a popular meeting place for the locals. Be sure to try some xuixo pastries filled with crema Catalana, Girona apples, sweet botifarra sausage, and salsifies and wild mushrooms. Emporda wines and Cava are made from Catalunyan appellations. Emporda wines are predominantly red but have been known historically for their rosé wines so be sure to give these a try as well. Cava, a sparkling white wine also produced in the region is common on restaurant tables too. Finish off your meal with a glass of Ratafia liqueur, a sweet liqueur made from local herbs.
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