FROM THE TOWERS OF THE SAINT DOMINIC´S WALL
Girona´s strategic location has historically made it a very privileged location. Situated in the north-western part of the Iberian Peninsula, it is an obligatory stopping point if heading towards France from the east of the Peninsula. It is only 50 km away from the border with the neighbouring country.
The city is located at the confluence of several rivers such as the Onyar, the Ter, the Galligants and surrounded by mountains that make it a strategic location. The Romans chose to found Gerunda in 77 B.C. thanks to these characteristics and the passage of the Via Herculea, which linked Rome with Gadir (Cadiz). Given its geography, this city was not built using the orthogonal layout like many Roman cities, but it was provided with a fortified area for its protection. The Rufina gate from this period can still be seen today.
The barri vell or old quarter that we know today emerged on the exact spot where the Roman city of Gerunda once stood. It has always been enclosed and protected by sturdy walls and towers built over the centuries, and some sections are still preserved today. The walls were considered obstacles hindering the development of the old town then in the 19th century. On the contrary, today, we are aware of preserving anything ancient. Fortunately, in Girona, there is still a fascinating stretch of the wall in the upper part of the city.
In the Carolingian period in the 9th century, the city was located close to the Muslim territory. For this reason, the Franks undertook significant works to extend the city walls and defensive systems, equipping the city´s defences with new, more elevated sections and new watchtowers.
We recommend you to go up the Germans´ street to one of the best-preserved towers, the Llamp (Lightning) or Telegraph Tower, from here you will get excellent panoramic views overlooking the whole city. As access is free, and since you are at the top of the walls, you should not miss the opportunity to walk around them. You will reach the Tower of Sant Domenec ( Saint Dominic), where the views of Girona from the top will surprise you.
From this historical place, there is a magnificent view over the city and its main monuments, such as the convent of Saint Dominic, the Cathedral, Sant Feliu and the rooftops that fill the old part of Girona.
Address: Carrer de la Muralla, 9, 17004 Girona
PA AMB TOMACA WITH FUET
It is well known that Spanish gastronomy is world famous and highly valued, and countless dishes give it international fame and glory, from the renowned Paella to the potato omelette, to the famous tapas. With an evident Mediterranean influence, if there is one thing the Catalans are known for, it is a dish as simple as it is delicious: pa amb tomaca! We could safely say that if you ask 10 Catalans for the best invention of all time, the chances are that 9 of them will name this delicacy.
They eat it every day, at any of their meals, and although its ingredients may seem simple to prepare, don´t think that the Catalans take it lightly, as it has its etiquette regarding the way it should be prepared. If you want to upset a Catalan, give him sliced bread with ketchup and tell him it´s pa amb tomaca; something similar would happen if you serve a Paella with peas to a Valencian.
The recipe could not be more Mediterranean, influenced by the many cultures from the Mare Nostrum. Greek colonies settled in Ampurias, and the Romans settled in Gerunda, now Girona.
The cereals, i.e. bread, oil, salt and tomato, although the latter was not introduced into our kitchens until the 18th century, all form an essential part of the diet of countries such as Italy and Greece.
The Catalans, who are thrifty and pragmatic (in Spain, they have a reputation for being stingy), probably invented this dish to make use of the leftover food in the homes of the peasants and farmers; recycling and reusing rather than wasting or throwing it away.
The first documents that mention this recipe date back to 1884. It tells us how the peasants used to smear the dry, hard bread several days old with ripe tomatoes to soften it. Later on, they started adding a good splash of olive oil to the bread.
If you already want to try this delicacy. You can accompany it with some fantastic Catalan cured meats, such as Iberian ham, Butifarra sausage or fuet (cured pork sausage). The latter is so-called because of its elongated shape and its two-finger thickness. It is thinly sliced and eaten raw.
This saying A taula i al llit anem al primer crit! , shows how much we like to eat. In other words, to the table and bed, we don´t need to be called twice.
LA RAMBLA DE LA LLIBERTAT HAS ALL THAT YOU NEED
The Rambla de la Llibertat, which is included in the Architectural Heritage Inventory of Catalonia, is a meeting place, a place for strolling and socialising for the people of Girona. They can go shopping or have a Vermouth with friends. Undoubtedly, it is a spot in the city that you can´t miss for its history and monumentality as well as being the ideal place to end up making some last-minute purchases.
This street, which starts near the Stone Bridge and runs parallel to the River Onyar, will invite you for a calm and peaceful walk, enjoying every detail, from the cobblestones of its pavement to its ancient houses and medieval arches. Here you´ll find shops, restaurants and terraces, all alternating with well-kept shops.
It was urbanised in the 13th century as a marketplace in the city. In fact, on Saturdays, the flower market is still held here, which fills everything with marvellous colours and fragrances. The Rambla is named after the tree of liberty planted here in 1869.
The Rambla is an absolute architectural delight, as is the whole of the Barri Vell in short. There are many buildings of interest here because of their distinctly medieval architecture, a clear example of which is the 14th century Can Casadevall. You will also find neoclassical buildings, but the one that will most attract your attention for breaking the medieval harmony is the modernist facade of the Casa Norat from 1912.
A wide variety of shops and businesses are located under the characteristic arcades with uneven arcades. And although it has been the city´s main shopping centre since ancient times, there is little trace of the traditional shops and plenty of franchises. Here you will find sports shops selling fluorescent trainers, numerous shops selling women´s clothing and accessories, shops selling minerals, opticians and a long list of shops that stretch all the way to Argentería street.
Although we usually don´t recommend specific businesses, there is a shop in this street that will delight you if you like literature. It is the Geli bookshop, founded in 1879 and one of the oldest in Catalonia. It has a catalogue of more than 200,000 books on a wide variety of subjects. If you fancy reading, we can recommend some of the great classics of Catalan literature, such as Prudenci Bertrana´s Josafat, inspired by the city´s Cathedral, or Mercé Rodoreda´s Plaza del Diamante, a novel that inspired the film of the same name.
After shopping, you can still look for the three executed men of Girona among the columns. They are capitals with sculpted faces, where one is a man playing the bagpipes, another is a bearded man with vampire wings, and the third is a snail man playing the flute. Tradition says that if you see the bearded man with vampire wings with the person you love, your love will last forever. WEIRD, BUT DON´T ASK WHY?
Address: Rambla de la Llibertat, 17004 Girona
THE COLOURED HOUSES OVER THE RIVER ONYAR
Girona is a city where you can take hundreds of interesting snaps of its historic quarter with its small palaces, the Jewish quarter, the imposing Cathedral, the beautiful Sant Feliu, or a panoramic view from the city walls. But the unmissable photo, the one that everyone will quickly recognise where you are, is from the river Onyar to its hanging houses. And it´s not just that it´s the most famous photo, it´s also the most beautiful.
In the Middle Ages, the city´s defensive walls stretched along this area, where the colourful hanging houses still stand today. In 1814, Napoleon´s troops decided to blow up all the fortifications before abandoning the city. At that point, the medieval ramparts, which had hindered the human and economic development of the city, were removed.
On the banks of the River Onyar and taking advantage of the space left by the old walls, new houses began to be built with a double façade, the main one facing the street and the other one overlooking the river. As the space left by the walls was not large enough, and as always trying to save money, they began to create cantilevers over the river to gain space and avoid paying for the land. In this practical way, the hanging houses over the river Onyar emerged.
Of all the houses, the most emblematic is Casa Masó, where the prominent architect from Girona, Rafael Masó I Valentí, was born. It is a clear example of Noucentisme architecture, and thanks to its white facade, it stands out from the rest of the buildings.
There is only one ideal photographic spot around here to get an excellent snapshot of the colourful facades. Still, exceptionally, we suggest two locations located very close to each other in this case. The first is the Pont d´en Gomez, and the second is the magnificent Pont de le Peixateries Velles or, as it is popularly known, the Eiffel Bridge.
From the Pont d´en Gomez, you´ll get a beautiful photo of this colourful mixture of houses, with the Girona History Museum in front of you and the Cathedral tower behind you. Even though the view from the other point suggested for your photo is slightly different, it´s still impressive to take a picture of the facades through the red metal structure of the Eiffel Bridge. Choose the one you like best; both are fantastic.
Address: Pont d´en Gómez, 2, 17001 Girona y Carrer del Riu Onyar, 17004 Girona
THE SMALLEST SQUARE IN EUROPE AND PERHAPS IN THE WORLD
Many cities usually take pride in and compete to have that one monument that is the most in something, the narrowest facade in the world, the narrowest street in Europe, the largest park in the universe and so on. It´s like an honour and a privilege, and maybe with luck, it will even be listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Here in Girona, they are very proud of having the smallest Square in Europe, and if for whatsoever reason that is not the case, the locals are so determined to defend it that it will eventually end up being so.
Whatever the truth is, it is true that the Plaça del Raïm, or grape square, is small, and unless proven otherwise, it is the smallest Square in Europe or even in the world. The 24-square-metre Square is frankly so small that Opera Winfrey probably has a larger bathroom.
With nearly 800 years of history, this Square is located in the Barri Vell or the old quarter of Girona. It´s not easy to find, as it can only be reached through an alleyway that is one metre wide and six metres long, which connects to another larger square, the Voltes d´en Rosés. So unless you´re looking for it, you´re unlikely to stumble across it by chance.
This tiny Square is a square of 5 metres on each side, which is hardly accessible to sunlight, as it is squeezed between buildings that can reach up to 20 metres in height.
The name "grape square" leads us to understand that in the past, as documented, grapes were traded here. But the most interesting thing is not that the grape market was held here, but that in the 13th century, it was known as the Plaza de la Paja (Straw Square) and that it was normal for grapes to be traded here as well.
Even with such small proportions, this Square was the chosen setting for an event that could sound like madness under normal conditions. On 28 October 2017, this is what happened when the Colla Castellera of the Marrecs de Salt formed what is known as a Pinya or base for the Castell (Human Tower).
Address: Plaça dels Raïms, 1, 17004 Girona
AN UNCONVENTIONAL KISSING TRADITION
Every self-respecting historic city has its traditions, especially when making wishes or doing something in one place will take you back to that place. As if it were a magic lamp, the bull on Wall Street gets inappropriately rubbed, coins are thrown into the Trevi Fountain, or the sculpture of St John Nepomuk on Prague´s Charles Bridge is fondled and polished so that a spell can take you back to that city.
Well, of course, Girona has a peculiar and unique tradition that is believed to take you back to this city for the second time, if you do it. A popular belief is that you have to kiss the lioness´s buttocks if you want to return to Girona. The question is, will you dare do it? Obviously, it´s not a real lioness, but it´s still a risky thing to do.
The lioness sculpture is one of its tourist attractions and its most emblematic monuments. It is a figure of a lioness sculpted in limestone on a column 3.76 metres high. The sculpture protrudes from the column in a somewhat deteriorated form, especially the tail, presumably due to the erosion caused by all the kissing.
The pillar of the lioness dates back to the 12th century, and you´ll find it in the heart of the city´s historic centre: Calle Calderers (Calderers street), right at the foot of the church of Sant Feliu, so you´re sure to come across it. The tradition is simple; given the size of the column and the height at which the feline stands, they have placed some steps to make it easier for you to perform such a daring act. You climb up, kiss it, have a bunch of 20 photographs taken and descend.
This harmless act of kissing the lioness´s buttocks is not supposed to pose any significant risk - the lioness is not going to turn around and bite you! But the truth is that, or what experience tells us is that it can lead to mishaps and even death. That is what happened in 2015 when a 75-year-old French tourist slipped from the steps leading up to the column.
In any case, all you have to keep in mind is to know your limits. Depending on how fit you are, you may find this awkward kissing easy or challenging. All that said; try your best to earn the privilege to return to this marvellous city; if you can.
Address: Plaça de Sant Feliu, 17004 Girona
THE LEGENDS OF THE CATHEDRAL
Girona is a city with a rich cultural tradition, not only because of the monumentality of its historic centre but also in the form of stories and legends. One of the most emblematic monuments representing the most important stories is the Cathedral of Santa Maria.
The imposing Cathedral, which overlooks the city from the highest point, is a perfect setting for films and series such as the highly acclaimed Game of Thrones, which, by the way, has now become a reference point for the thousands of tourists who are passionate fans of the series. The Cathedral has been a prominent setting for literature, such as in the novel "Josafat" by Prudenci Bertrana, one of the most outstanding works of Catalan literature.
The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th centuries, mixing different architectural styles, ranging from the early Romanesque, as in the case of the abbey and the tower of Charlemagne, to a fantastic Gothic vaulted interior and a Baroque façade. The Cathedral of Girona stands out for having the broadest central nave in the world, with a width of 23 metres.
The upper part of the church is crowned by a sculpture, which historically had a blindfold symbolising the Christian faith and was popularly known among the people like the angel. In a restoration work carried out, the head was replaced by another without a blindfold; however, from below, it is indistinguishable, and people still think it is an angel.
The most famous legend of the Cathedral tells us about one of the gargoyles, which is the only one in human form, a woman to be more specific, and is known as the "witch". According to legend, a woman with a bad temper threw stones and insulted parishioners and priests on their way to the Cathedral.
One fine day a divine miracle turned this sinful woman into a rock. It is believed that she became a gargoyle of the temple, looking at the ground with her mouth open for the passing of the centuries so that instead of hurling insults, she could spurt pure, crystalline water from her mouth.
According to the popular belief in Girona, this gargoyle became a divine warning of what could happen to you if you blasphemed or had bad intentions. When the parishioners pass under this gargoyle, they remember the saying, "you throw stones, and you will become a stone".
Address: Plaça de la Catedral, s/n, 17004 Girona
AMIDST THREE CULTURES
Thanks to their history and monuments, some Spanish cities are a perfect example of what must have been an ideal coexistence or a not so ideal coexistence between the three communities of the main monotheistic religions. The coexistence of the Christians, Muslims and Jews, as seen in the monumental Toledo, can also be seen in Girona.
Along this tour, we propose you visit the primary traces that are left in Girona of each of these great communities, with their apparent differences, most representative buildings, customs and religion.
We will start our walk at the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants, one of the great exponents of Romanesque architecture in Catalonia, and be sure to enjoy the capitals of the cloister and the elegant octagonal bell tower of this 12th-century building. This building has also housed the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia since 1857.
Head down Calle de Santa Lucia, which will lead you to the Plaza del Jurats. Here you´ll find one of the city´s most representative monuments. This is the Arab Baths, which are a Christian construction in Romanesque style. Built in 1194 in an architecture that imitated the baths used by the Muslims. It has a fantastic lantern and its upper dome on fine columns overlooking the central pool. It appears in scenes from the Game of Thrones saga, and so does Sant Pere de Galligants.
Descend King Ferdinand the Catholic street, and you will come to the baroque 18th-century church of Sant Lluc. Access the Sobreportes doorway in front of you to reach the Cathedral steps. Enjoy the views of the baroque façade of this imposing temple without climbing the steps.
We invite you to explore Girona´s historic Jewish quarter or call de Girona via Carrer de la força (street of strength). This narrow, historic street will take you to what is considered the best-preserved neighbourhood on the continent and were one of the most important Jewish communities in the West lived until they were expelled in 1492. They attained a significant economic and social status. In the 14th century, around a thousand Jews resided here and provided the neighbourhood with shops, synagogues and an outstanding school of Kabbalah.
You can enjoy many of its buildings and the Museum of Jewish History in this historic quarter. The Bonaspruc ça Porta centre is located where a 15th-century synagogue once stood. Here you can find a fantastic collection of funerary tombstones from Montjuïc in Barcelona and hundreds of objects relating to this historic community.
THE GERMAN GARDEN
If there is an ideal place to disconnect in Girona, it is the German garden. It is just one of the many beautiful surroundings that the city offers, and there are plenty more!
Let´s recommend one of these gardens for their superb location, history, and the perfect combination of the architecture of the ruins of an old military base with the nature surrounding it. A magical place where you can spend hours just doing NOTHING so keep an eye on your watch.
To get to these gardens, you will have to climb to the upper part of the city, so wearing comfortable shoes is more of a must than an option. From the side of the Cathedral, you will reach the Calle de Los Alemanes ( German street), along a narrow, winding path between houses built of stone.
And why are so many Germans linked to streets and gardens here? What is the connection? Did Bernd Schuster or Gunilla Von Bismark live here? Well, at least the gardens owe their name to former barracks of German mercenaries who settled in this city in the 17th century and remained here until the Napoleonic wars. The current ruined state of this former military complex is due to the damage caused by the French before they abandoned the city.
One of the marvellous things you could do in this garden is to imagine what the place must have been like before it was destroyed. The vegetation that invades everything here seems not to have been there by chance but made by man.
In such a mysterious place, where historical re-enactments of the French war occur, the setting couldn´t get better. During the flower festival that floods the whole city with colourful flowers, this is a unique place that attracts thousands of onlookers and tourists.
The garden´s location allows you to enjoy the proximity and presence of the historic walls of Girona; in fact, the imposing Gironella Tower and the Llamp Tower seem to be watching over you. It is not unreasonable to feel watched, as these towers are two of the busiest viewpoints in the city.
Address: Carrer de la Muralla, 2, 17004 Girona
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