Around IX Besalú became an independent county that didn't belong anymore to the influence of Girona. Around the year 1000, Besalú was one of the most important Catalan counties, one of the reasons due to its market and commercial routes that gathered artisans, business men and peasant farmers.
Lots of people from the surroundings went to Besalú to selltheir products, and with the earnings they invested in products that were produced in the same town, so Besalú developed different kinds of artisans and shops such as shoemakers, weavers and carpenters among others.
The origin of the city was the castle of Besalú that appears in documents from X century, where now are the remainings of Santa Maria, from the Middle Ages. The city still has important medieval structures such as the bridge, the micé of jewish baths, the church of Sant Pere monastery, Sant Julià -the old hospital of pilgrims-, Casa Cornellà, Sant Vicenç church or the gothic room of the Cúria Real Palace. Although nowadays is not exactly as it used to be at that time we can imagine how it used to be looking at the remaining building and structures.
What to visit in Besalú
If there is an image to show Besalú to the world is with no doubt the view of the Romanic bridge. From XI Besalú had a Romanic bridge, possibly the shape was not the same as it is now as on 1315 due to a river flood the bridge was damaged. During the centuries the bridge has been rebuilt in different occasions.
Col·legiata de Santa Maria: it is a primitive chapel called Santa Maria, only for the prayers in the court. The remainings tell us that it used to be one of the most important temples at the time.
Casa Cornellà de Besalú: is one of the best preserved civil Romanic buildings in Catalonia. Is from the end of XII century and is a rich house from medieval times.
- Cúria Real: is a gothic room of the Royal Cúria, it is a noble building where now in the bottom part is located a cultural space where you can see a visual documentary of Besalú.
- Monastery Sant Pere: it only remains the church from the original monastery. The monastery was Benedictine with 12 monks, and later on, they had an abbot and a lof of political influence at the time. It is interesting to know that Besalú hosted many pilgrims as it shows the existence of the ancient Sant Julià Hospital that was designated to host the pilgrims.
- Sant Vicenç church: is now the church used in town, is a Romanic church with some elements from the gothic.
- Sant Julià de Besalú: is hospital from XII where the pilgrims stayed at the time, the Benedictine order assisted the ones who came into town. The façade is very beautiful, has 6 archs in gradient. There are 4 capitals, three of them representing animal shapes and the forth one with acanthus leaves.
The heritage in Besalú related to the Jewish community is huge and incredibly well preserved. The Jewish community lived in Besalú from IX until 1436. I was impressed by the Micvé that can be seen in Besalú, a Micvé is a Jewish bath that was discovered in 1964 by surprise, they started digging and found the structure of the top of the Micvé and realized what it was. The Micvé was incredibly well preserved as it was next to the river and inside there were all solid sediments from the river that made the structure keep together and last.
You can imagine how important the Besalú Micvé is that is the first one of this characteristics to be found in Spain and the third in Europe, you can't leave town without visiting it.
It is a room in the subsoil of Romanic style and it is built with cut stone. It has a little window and a swimming pool that used to be filled in naturally from the water of a fountain that nowadays does not exist.
The objective of the Micvé is to purify the soul through a total immersion of the body in water, women used to purify themselves when they were going to get married, they were about to have a child and event after giving birth etc... The men used to purify themselves every Friday, right before the sunset, before getting into the Sabbat, their day of rest.
The Micvé is located where there used to be a square called the Jewish square where the Synagogue was located. Nowadays you can still observe the courtyard of the Synagogue and the prayer's room.
In Besalú, they lived up to 20 Jewish families during the medieval time until they had to leave in 1436. At first, they were mingled with the population of the town but at the end of their time in town they were closed in Jewish quarters where they lived together and weren't allowed to leave. You can still walk the "call" -Jewish street- where they used to walk in every day.
Where to eat in Besalú
After a good walking tour through Besalú it was time for lunch and what best to enjoy it in a typical Catalan restaurant as Can Quei, their specialty grilled meat what we call it -carn a la brasa-. They have three rooms inside the restaurant and you can also eat on the outside, they have a terrace. At the weekend, they have two menus, one for 20 euros and another one for 25 euros, including a starter, a main, dessert, bread and a drink. On weekdays, they have a daily menu for 11 euros.
We went there at the weekend and we went for the 25 euro menu, the quality of food was excellent but the quantity was too much, with sadness we had to leave some food in the plate. We had grilled veggies with romesco sauce- typical sauce from the calçots- and duck cannelloni with truffle bechamel and as a main "secret pork" with red berry sauce and Roger took a beef stake.
Let me just comment on my secret pork, it is a strange piece of meat to translate and in Spain we call it pork secret as it seems that the butchers use to keep this particular cut for themselves, that is why it was a well-kept secret from customers.
Disclaimer: our trip to Girona/Besalú has been possible thanks to Patronat de Turisme de Girona and their partners. As always the opinion is my own.