Beautiful Girona city has many things to discover, we told you about Girona legends, Santa Caterina ancient pharmacy and Rafael Masó architecture but we had yet to go through the Jewish past of Girona city.
The Jewish community was established in Girona during 600 years, no wonder why the Jewish quarter of Girona is one of the best well-preserved in the world. As many towns that had a Jewish community, although the jews lived there they were not integrated with the rest of the city.
They had cultural differences, a different religion, traditions and habits, this didn't help the two communities to unite. Moreover, they also had legal reasons not to mingle as the Jewish community was confined to stay in a defined are called "El Call", the Jewish quarter.
Jewish community in Girona
The existence of the Jewish community in Girona comes from 982, the first time it appears documented, but until the year 1160 it doesn't appear as an established community but only isolated houses.
The Jews were a very important community in Catalonia established in different cities until their expulsion on 1492. The jews had a special treatment by the king, they paid more taxes than the rest of the population but they had the right to get protection from the king. They had their own official organizations and structured independent from the Christian ones established in town. They had their own secretaries, administration workers etc...the only structure that was shared was the judicial area.
El Call, the Jewish quarter
Inside the street la Força one of the most incredible places is the Call Jueu, the Jewish quarter that is a maze of narrow streets and courtyards that remained nowadays very much the same way they were in medieval times. The Jewish quarter of Girona is one of the best well-preserved in the world and an evidence of the importance that the Jewish culture had in Girona.
The Jewish quarter in Girona was located on what is now different sectors in the old town. The main street of el Call was la Força street, where narrow streets are born such as Cúndaro, Sant Llorenç, Oliva and Prats.This maze of narrow streets, grey stones and windows made with rusted steel were the home of the Girona Jews.
In different moments in time the Jews even converted to the Christianism, some sincerely and others with the aim to save their own lives and their belongings. The Jews had to keep an image of austerity, so you can see buildings on the outside with basic materials and on the inside the houses are a lot different. Even their clothes, the jews used to be dressed very simply but inside their homes they were dressed with clothes of a lot more quality.
The material and archeological heritage from the jews in Girona is very poor but their contribution in the culture, the mystic and the Càbala made Girona city to get the title of the Mother City of Israel. Important intellectuals of the time such as Bonastruc Ça Porta, Jacob ben Sheshet and Ezra de Girona were celebrities at the time and until now that there investigations of what they wrote.
As mentioned the main street was la Força, but there were also some important ones in the area explained below:
El carrer de Sant Llorenç: this is a must to visit the call, some authors have mentioned the similarity with the old town of Jerusalem. In this street you can find the houses of Lleó Avinay, o Colls-Labayen, and the centre Bonastruc ça Porta, the ancient Isaac the blind. In Bonastruç ça Porta is where the Jewish Museum of Girona is located.
El centre Bonastruc ça Porta: courtyards and gardens, you can visit the complex of constructions and interior design of medieval Jewish building.
Lleó Avinay's house: when the jews were expelled, this house was property of the Aljama's rector, the courtyard of this private building can be seen from Sant Llorenç street. In the courtyard there is a well that was built before the expulsion, a Romanic column and the gothic large windows.
- Pujada de la Mare de Déu de la Pera: there is the architectural ensemble of La Pabordia that has building of XII-XIV centuries, it used to be the public baths, and the most important parts are the entrance courtyard, the stairs and the atrium decorated with columns.
- Institut Vell square: is located right at the end of La Força street. At the end you can see a building from XII called la Canonja Vella where there were different Jewish buildings, probably from the Hal·leví. On the north part of the square you can see in the doors of some buildings, a crack in the stone of 12 centimetres and is where they kept the mezuzàh. The mezuzàh are a piece of parchment that inside it is a ritual formula, the jews touch is before they come in and when they come out of the house.
- Dr. Miquel Oliva i Prat street: the third Synagogue from XV century persisted until the expulsion of the jews and it is believed it was located in the number 5 of the ancient street de les Dones that now is Dr Miquel Oliva.
History Museum of the Jews in Girona
The Jewish museum starts with the origin of the Jewish community in Girona. The first families that were established in the city were around IX century and some archeological findings of objects used in the daily basis.
It was very interesting the museum and the pieces shown on it, as you can learn how the jews lived in the city about their history, religion and celebrations.
See a summary of the pieces that caught my eye in the museum:
You can see in the museum a stamp to mark the bread during Easter, the mazzot were the bread typical for Easter and so they were able to be eaten by the Jewish community they had to be stamped.
There is an amazing hanukià, a metal lamp of 8 arms that were used in the Janucà, the light festivity that is celebrated in December. Every night they lighted up an arm of the lamp until they completed the full week of celebration.
Inside the museum there are important remainings of the Jewish Girona, there is a micvé, a ritual bath, used for the Jewish community in their last 40 years in the city. Not as incredible as the one in Besalú, is a little Micvé.
Inside the museum you can find a mockup of how it was the Jewish quarter at the end of XIV century, this helps get an idea on how they lived and how the quarter changed with the centuries until what it is nowadays.
One of the stars of the museum is an incredible world map called l'Atles de Cresques, produced on 1373, the original is kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (París). This world map was built by Jafudà and Abraham Cresques, father and son who created the map for the king, they had to create a world map of all the known world, the Catalan King gave it to Delfí from France as a wedding gift.