The labyrinthic distribution and medieval atmosphere of its streets, the steep steps make frequently avoid the different levels of urban orography, the charm of the barri vellshops, the historic and didactic contribution of the Bonastruc ça Porta centre and, in particular, the firm commitment to recovering the old Jewish quarter make the Girona Jewish quarter into a unique, fascinating place. The transformations the district underwent after expulsion of the Jews in 1492 have not prevented the call dels jueus from retaining today a large part of this Kabbalistic mystery which characterised the Jews of Girona in an environment which has remained in exactly the same spot since the Middle Ages.

Thanks to the documentation preserved from the Early Middle Ages, we know that between 888 and 890 around twenty five Jewish families settled in the vicinity of Girona cathedral. They arrived thanks to Count Delawho brought them after acquiring the Juïges building as his home (in LatinJudaicas) in the county of Besalú where they had lived up till that time. Much later the term Jewish call or callis iudaicus appeared in a document dated July 20th 1160. The community had been growing with new families until in the 14th centiry it already numbered around one thousand, ten per cent of the city's population. From Devesa park, alongside the Punto de Bienvenida (Welcoming Point) of the city, an excellent vision is obtained of the callas a whole, located right in the heart of the Roman Gerunda and the medieval Girona.

The oldest documentary references with regard to the settlements of Girona inhabited or owned by Jews appear as from 930. At that time the Jews, scant in number, probably lived in an area near the cathedral, around the former Cardo Maximus. It was here where the first synagogue must have been located dated 988. During the 10th and 11th centuries various documentary references already appear to Jews who lived in the spot which, years later, would become known as the call. This space was owned by the chapterhouse in the 11th century and was not yet an exclusively Jewish site.

During the second half of the 11th century two provincial councils took place in Girona dealing with Jewish-related themes. The first council in 1068 was concerned with the land which Jes had bought from Christians and it determined that the attendant tithes would be paid in the parish church to which they belonged. In the council of 1078 the issue was raised again and it was once more determined that all taxes on land owned by Jews would be paid to the parish which as entitled to the tithe as occurred in the land cultivated by Christians. The theme was an important one and this is why it was dealt with at two councils, suggesting that the volume of acquisitions by Jews must have been large. In this regard, Jaume Marqués is of the opinion that the Jews from Girona in the 11th century occupied major estates which had been bought or legally obtained in payment for unpaid loans.

Various documents from the 11th century mention properties and assets owned by Jews located in various places of the city, even outside the walls: vineyards, fruit and vegetable gardens, land etc. Furthermore, at least until 1207 the community had a strip of virgin land to the north of the city, Montjuïc or Monte de los Judíos (Jews' Mount)where they could bury their dead. The Jews of Girona also owned real estate in Ballesterías street, in Mercadell street (the space currently occupied by the Pía Almoina building) and in the pseudo-industrial area of Mercadal where they had rights over various mills.

The Jews were the legal property of the King who imposed higher economic duties on them than on Christians. In return the monarch protected them and granted them privileges regarding the organisation of the aljama and, in some specific cases, he granted them his trust and privilege. In 1265, Astruc Ravaya was designated by Jaime I as the Girona Bailiff and his son, Mossé Ravaya, held the title of General Bailiff of Catalonia. They were members of one of the most important families in the community which shared its social and economic power inside and outside the aljama with families like the Saltell, the Graciá, the Cresques, the Lobell, the Ravaya, the Caravita, the Falcó, the Desmestre, the Badós, the de Blanes, the Avinai, the Rovén and a few more. These families enjoyed an excellent status which was passed from fathers to sons; they were men of culture, owned land and properties and had dealings with the major Christian families.

The occupation of the call as a Jewish place of residence occurred between the late 11th century and the early 12th century. The oldest document referring to the settlement of Jews in the call area dates from July 20th 1160 when Bernardo, the archbishop of Tarragona and sacristan of Girona Cathedral, granted to a Jew called Mordechai and his son Moshé Batlle the houses owned by the Cathedral located in a Jewish street which his father and forefathers had owned. The call area was not a homogeneous Jewish area yet, but there was a noticeable increase in their properties in the area. In 1197, Elisenda de Vilademany and her son Dalmau Ramón gave Berenguer Cifret, a frank allodial title, some censos which they charged on the house inhabited by Berenguer Sabater and which was located at a little square where Berenguer Cifret made some sales to Jews who gradually began to occupy the northern part of the future call.

In 1279 the Callhad already been fully formed and it had a hospital for the poor and sick located in the former Ruca street. The Callwas the Jewish space par excellence where the daily life of the Girona community went on. In 1284 a document named it the Israel District and mentioned the presence there of various real estate units owned by Jews which had a sewage system with balconies and courtyards.

During this time in 1276-1278 the complaints of Jaime I to the bishop of Girona for the attitude of some members of the clergy, who from the cathedral belltower and the houses of the Church stoned the call, events which already occurred previously, particularly on Easter Friday. The Jewish community had also seen gardens, vineyards and tombs at the Montjuïc cemetery destroyed. The king urged the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to ensure that these events wouldn't happen again but difficult times were approaching for Catalonia and for Girona in particular. At the start of 1285 the king was at his wit's end regarding this situation. The occupation of Sicily in 1283 brought the King Pedro III into conflict with the house of Anjou which had been expelled from the island, the King of France and the Pope. On February 8th 1283 the King had ordered the Jews of Girona to pay for half of the works which were being undertaken to improve the urban defencesaccording to ancient custom, with the expectation of an attack by the French army. Furthermore, on January 25th 1284 the King decreed that from Holy Wednesday until after Easter the Jews could not leave the callto avoid any possible disturbance and for their own safety.

As Pedro III had feared, the papal crusade, supported and led by the King of France Philip III the Bold, crossed the Pyrenees after various attempts. Pedro III, whose army was smaller, decided to abandon Figueras and Perelada strengthen his position in Girona. When he reached the city the king found the almogavars sacking the call. By taking firm action he restored order and was able to devote himself to preparing the defence of the city. He delegated command of plaza to Ramón Folch de Cardona, lord of Gironella castle who strengthened the walled perimeter of the Força Vella (the medieval town). On June 28th 1285 the attack commenced, led in person by Philip III of France. The next day, a Royal document informed officers that the Jews had abandoned the city with their families and it ordered them not to require any toll and grant them safe passage.

In 1373 the central thoroughfare of the call was already officially known as carrer Major del Call (Call main street). The Jewish quarter extended on both sides of the current Força street and one side of many Jewish houses adjoined the city wall which ran parallel to Ballesterías street. The second of the synagogues appeared between these buildings in a space currently occupied by the houses located opposite the steps of the Virgen de la Pera (Virgin of the Pear) - Pujada de la Catedral). In 1386 Pedro IV the Ceremonious, ever concerned with defending his city, regarded as the key to the kingdom, ordered the buildings backing into the wall to be pulled down. Many houses in the Jewish quarter and Mercadell backed onto the city wall and were frequently directly supported on the wall. An exception was granted to the synagogue walls where it was possible to open wide gates to facilitate thoroughfare and to the house of Abraham Rava, a Jew. This synagogue, which we have called the main synagogue, was situated in the heart of the call.

In 1331 there was a fierce attack on the Jewish quarter and the monarch created a Royal Commission to publish those guilty. In 1348, owing to the problems brought about by the Black Death, the call was attacked again.

And the same happened again in 1391. On August 10th 1391 there were disturbances against the Jews of Girona which brought about the attack on the call and a massive slaughter of Jews. There was a fearful aftermath and some survivors took refuge at Gironella Tower, others at the homes of Christian friends who resided in the city itself. The synagogue was probably one of the main objectives of this mob. The attack on and destruction of the call in 1391 had serious consequences for the Jewish community of Girona which would never be the same again. In addition to the material destruction brought about by the fire and sacking, the Jewish population fell considerably, partly owing to the fatalities, partly due to the conversions to Christianity and emigration, phenomena which continued throughout the 15th century.

The situation inside the call became one of uncertainty. On the one hand, royal protection had started to be less forthright, on the other the jurats of the city fell between a rock and a hard place: the royal orders endeavouring to protect the Jewish community and the clearly antisemitic position of the majority of the population. This was all exacerbated in the early 15th centiry with the attitude of Pope Benedict XIII (the Papa Luna) who in 1412 addressed to letters to the bishop of Girona, one pertaining to the Catholic faith and the other convening the Jews to the so-called Disputation of Tortosa which sought to convert the Jews and which was held in Tortosa. The Disputation was lengthy and continued until 1414 and by the end of it three thousand Jews had ended up embracing Christianity. Ten years on in 1404, Vincent Ferrer had given his famous sermon to thousands of people gathered around the steps of the Dominicos Convent, whilst the Jews, closed behind an iron gate, listened impotently to his antisemitic haranguing.

Upon the completion of the Disputation of Tortosa, on May 11th 1415 Benedict XIII published an extremely harsh bull in which he forbade any member of the faithful or infidel of any status from daring in public or in private to listen to, read or teach the doctrines of the Talmud and hence all the volumes, books and writings contained in said doctrine began to be gathered. The aim was simply to restrict the religious life of the Jews and damage any healthy cohabitation between the two communities. In the same way, according to the papal order, all synagogues must be closed and only one left open, the least lavish, for religious services. In Girona on October 24th 1415 the synagogue began to be closed which as finally shut on November 10th 1415. It would seem that the synagogue was reopened with the permission of Prince Alfonso on March 5th 1416 and continued to be used for some years.

In the early 15th century the Pía Almoina building of Girona Cathedral was no longer large enough for its purpose and María, the wife of the future Alfonso IV the Magnanimous and princess of Girona authorised its extension. Different courtyards and houses began to be acquired for the new cathedral. The sales made included on April 6th 1416 the sale by Bonastruc de Mestre, a Jew, to Almoina of a house near the chapel of Sant Genís and the Cathedral steps. This house was situated at the corner of current Força street with Cathedral square and alongside the Main Gate of the Call. In the following year, Astruc za Barra, a Jew, sold his house on Ardiaca street opposite the Ruca oven.

In the mid-14th century the Girona call gradually began to turn into a place which was isolated from the other streets going to make up the main centre of the medieval city. It was a difficult time for relations between Jews and Christians. The attacks had become ever more common and the municipal bodies decided to turn the call into a closed space in order to protect the Jews but also as a means of segregation. On the pretext of preventing any new attacks by the Christian community, in 1418 the jurors required the call to have gates which could be closed and to block up any openings or windows onto the Callmain street. In 1418, during the Easter Friday Procession, the call was attacked and the city jurors ordered those closing of any doors and windows which opened onto Força street from the call. Having closed up all the openings of houses onto the Callmain street, in 1442 a new edict was issued were by Jews were forbidden from living in the former Sant Llorenç street (now Força street) because it was no longer part of the call.

The first segregation edict of 1418 made the synagogue unusable as it was situated in Força street and was inaccessible for the Jewish community because it fell outside the reclusion of the closed call. Hence, on November 10th 1434 the jurors granted Bonastruc de Mestre, Astruc Avinai and Bonastruc Jucef, all Jews, permission to build houses in the courtyards of the Callwhich could contained the last synagogue in the city: the house and street of Astruc Avinai, to the east, and the house of Jaume Falcó, also a Jew, to the north, seem to indicate this. This third synagogue was only used until 1492. The Talmudic school, the Mikveh, the hospital and the women´s' school were set up in its outbuildings.

The jurors's became increasingly more active and delicate in an attempt to regulate the cohabitation of Christians, converts and Jews. In the Ordinations dated April 19th 1444, it has established that no Jew could live on Sant Llorenç street, the current Força street, which fell outside the call limits and any Jew who had a house within the call limits had to block up doors and windows giving out onto Sant Llorenç street within 15 days. It seems that the Ordinations were largely ignored because on April 28th 1445 the jurors had to recall the previous stipulation, adding that no Christian or Jew could rent, give or leave any house to Jews nor shops or tables situated in Sant Llorenç street nor in annexed squares or alleys. The Jews could rent shops, tables or houses anywhere provided that they remained within the limits of the Calland that the houses did not give out onto Sant Llorenç street.

The situation inside and outside the Callwas gradually deteriorating for the Jewish community. In 1449 a letter from the municipal authorities to Queen María made clear the poverty of the Jewish community in Girona with under 125 people. In 1456 the city jurors informed the King that according to the city's bishop and at the request of the Inquisitor Pedro Conde, the expansion of the call had been ordered in the form of the square on Ruca street which would be added, closing all the passages with a view to keeping the Jews away from houses which looked out onto Sant Llorenç street, the current Força street. This stipulation seems to indicate that the jurors' order of 1444 had not been followed.

However, the segregation of Jews in the call does not mean that the Jews had no properties outside the latter. In actual fact, the remains and courtyards of the second synagogue located outside the enclosure still belonged to the Jewish community. This is borne out by the fact that on May 20th 1461 Astruc za Barra, a Jew, sold to the Almoina of the Cathedral the right of thoroughfare through his garden for water from the Ruca oven by means of small aqueducts. The house and garden were situated on Ardiaca street, opposite the oven.

On April 30th 1492 the governors of the aljama received a Royal Charter signed in Granada on March 31st whereby they were notified of the decision by the Catholic Monarchs that those Jews who remained faithful to their faith must leave the country before August 1st. They could sell their properties and take all their belongings except for gold and silver coins. Those who opted for exile had to sell what they had at a loss in a short space of time and without any alternative.

The liquidation of the Jewish real estate was carried out in very poor conditions at very low prices. One example is Lleó Avinai, a Jew from a respected family, who lived in the house adjoining the third synagogue, who sold his house in his name and in the name of his spouse Estrugona on June 28th to Miquel Escolà, a cathedral incumbent. The selling price was 60 pounds and the building was excellent for that time, endowed with a large surface area and a beautiful structure. On the same day Jucef Piera also sold his family home situated to the south of that of Lleó Avinai, to Antonio Baldomar, a cathedral canon, for the price of 15 Barcelona pounds. On July 12th the governors of the aljama sold to Pere Grau Terrades a house which had used to serve as a Jewish school or synagogue. The document states that it was the old synagogue. The selling price was 10 florins. On July 9th the set of buildings was sold where the third synagogue was located. It was an array of adjoining houses: the aljama schools, the women´s' house, the hospital and the Mikveh. It was bought by Jordi Rafart, a priest who was a cathedral incumbent, for a sum amounting to less than half the sale of Lleó Avinai's house. Finally, on July 29th, already about to leave the city, Bonastruc Benvevist, an important, economically very powerful Jew, sold his house on Sant Llorenç street to the doctor of law Joan Serra who paid 30 pounds. Many thought that exile would be temporary like Bonastruc Benvenist who sold his assets on the condition that he could buy them back if he returned within one year. But the Jews were never to return to Girona.

In 1492 the Jewish community of Girona disappeared for good. Although the Inquisition tried to obliterate any memory of their presence, the Jewish legacy remain in the city and even today, over five hundred years later, the streets of the Call keep the recollection alive of that community which inhabited Girona for over seven centuries. Even in subsequent centuries (XVI-XVII-XVIII) documents continue to refer to the street where the synagogue was, the old Jewish school or the Jewish synagogue.

Arab Baths

The Arab Baths

The Paseo de la Reina Juana connects to Fernando el Católico street where there are excellent baths, popularly known since the 19th century as the Arab baths whose sumptuous apodyterium or changing room is presided over by a large Star of David. They are dated 1194 and, after being closed in the 15th century, they were occupied in 1617 by a community of Capuchin nuns. In 1929 they started being managed publicly. These excellent baths are also endowed with a frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), caldarium (hot room) and an oven.

Arch on Escola Pia Street

Escola Pía street, one of the limits of the call. © J. M. Oliveras

On Escola Pía Street is one of the gates of the Girona call. Alongside the arch, a cylindrical tower still stands, the Agullana tower, from which the wall changed direction and went down to Força street.

Astruc Abraham des Portal´s house

Astruc Abraham´s house lintelled door

During the excavations done on the ground floor of the Jewish History Museum, a door and the inside of a Medieval house were located. This house belonged to the Jewish physician Astruc Abraham des Portal, son of a well-known dynasty of Jewish physicians from the city. Adjoining this house there was the synagogue´s courtyard, a public street from the call (Jewish quarter) and the Jewish butchery.

The archaeological intervention undertook on the ground floor´s back space of the Jewish History Museum highlighted the existence of an internal room, delimited by a Medieval wall on the east, according to archaeological reports, and by a lintelled door opened to the Hernández street, on the south.

Bonastruc Ça Porta Centre

In the foreground, a funeral stele dated 1411: 'Esta es la estela de la honorable [Es]telina, hija del prohombre (Ast)ruc Cohen guárdela en su Roca y su Redentor'

Preceded by the display windows of the Sepharad shop, specialising in Jewish bibliography, the door of the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre is to be found at number 8 Força street, housing inside the Jewish History Museum and the Nahmanides Studies' Institute which takes its name from the great Kabbalist, philosopher, Talmudist, poet, doctor and rabbi of Girona Moses ben Nahman, known as Nahmanides and popularly called Bonastruc ça Porta. The last synagogue of Girona was located in this same building, in operation in the 15th centiry after the main synagogue closed.

The Jewish History Museum has 12 rooms dedicated to the everyday life, rituals and traditions, the Jerusalem diaspora and the arrival of the Jews in Catalonia, the synagogue, the Jewish cemetery, Nahmanides, cultural and scientific activity of Catalan Jews and the difficult relations between the Jewish community and Christians from the end of the 14th century to 1492. Of particular note is the series of funeral headstones from the 12th to the 15th deriving from Montjuïc cemetery, unique of their kind.

The museum also devotes two rooms to temporary exhibitions and has access to the Estrella courtyard with its old cistern, the site of open air activities, spaces which accommodate a large part of the wealth of cultural activity it generates

Finally, on the third floor of the Centre are the outbuildings of the Nahmanides Studies Institute, the conference rooms and the library specialised in Jewish items whose mission is to research and educate.

The Centre houses the Patronat Call de Girona institution, a municipal public body which manages the Call complex and the central offices and secretaries of the Jewish quarter Network and the AEPJ, European association for the preservation and promotion of Jewish culture and heritage.

Mossé ben Nahmán, Nahmánides

The most prominent figure within the context of Jewish Girona was the rabbiMoses ben Nahman, also known as Nahmanides or Ramban and, according to some historians, by the Catalan name of Bonastruc ça Porta. This philosopher, exegete, poet and doctor was born in the city in around 1194. He was a wise, pious man who left his mark on the history of Girona and all of Catalonia.

He followed the Kabbalistic postulates and acted wisely as a mediator the confrontation between traditionalists and maimonidists. In 1263 he took part in the controversy known as the Disputation of Barcelona in which he dialectically came up against the convert Pau Cristià (Pablo Christiani) to publicly defend – and at the request of the King – the Jewish religion. Shortly afterwards he set off for the Holy Land; he died at San Juan de Acre in Israel in around 1270.

His memory is alive and well and his work is still a mandatory reference for a knowledge of how people thought and felt in medieval times

Casa Colls. Lleó Avinai's house

The courtyard of Casa Colls, the home of Lleó Avinay, the last governor of the Girona aljama. © J. M. Oliveras

Slightly further up from the access gate to the Bonastruc ça Porta centre there lies the magnificent gate of Casa Colls which allow its inner courtyard to be seen. It would seem that the house became the property of a convert as inside the well Mezuzah grooves have been found as if someone had wanted to hide them with the construction of the well without destroying them. Of the thirteen holes for the Mezuzah catalogued in Girona, no less than eight are located inside.

The house which can sometimes be visited is identified with the home of the last nasior governor of the Girona aljama, Lleó Avinai. On the left the itinerary continues via Lluís Batlle i Prats street which then meets Clavería street in a slight ascent. Further on is the image of the Virgin of the Pear which is the popular name for these steps which go down to Força street and which also meet Manuel Cúndaro street.

Cathedral

Girona's Cathedral. © J. M. Oliveras

St. Mary's cathedral in Girona is situated above a pre-Romanesque and another previous Visigoth temple and it dominates the city skyline. On the previous Romanesque building , whereof the beautiful cloister and Charlemagne tower have been conserved, the new 14th century cathedral has replaced the three original naves with a single, monumental vault.

City History Museum

City History Museum. Main entrance

At number 27 of Força street is the entrance to the City History Museum which along with its permanent exhibition has staged numerous temporary ones. At the museum, where a visual, educational overview of the history and life of Girona is provided from prehistory to the present day, there is also a reference to the Jewish collective as an essential part of the city in the Middle Ages.

Correu Vell Square

Correu Vell Square

Around this time in the 14th century a third gateway closing off the Jewish district the Portal Mayor (Main Gate) of the Call. This square forms the southern limit of the call. It owes its name to the fact that it was here were the first Post Office in Girona was located.

In September 1448 the city jurors allowed in order to expand, conserve and improve the Jewish aljama of said city- in view of the evident narrowness of the Jewish quarter which they had seen first-hand - an extension to the call, incorporating this area and Ruca street into the northern part. Between the new and the old closure, they proclaimed that all the Jewish families whose domicile was outside the call would have to settle at the new ensuing site.

Episcopal Palace-Art Museum

Episcopal Palace-Art Museum

The first synagogue documented in Girona, presumably in the late 10th century, is situated at the angle formed by the cathedral and the Episcopal Palace where the first Jewish community was settled. The palace has now given way to a splendid museum which displays one of the best collections of Romanesque and Gothic art in Catalonia, enriched with works by major artists until the 20th century. Bisbe Cartanyà street crosses a passageway to the Episcopal Palace and it enters the upper city alongside the wall.

Força Street

Força Street

Força street, the main thoroughfare of the medieval city and the Jewish quarter, also corresponds to the Roman cardus and Vía Augusta and it takes its name from the fortress which Girona represents.

Known since the end of the Middle Ages as Sant Llorenç street, on its Western side the callopened out into narrow, steep streets like that of Lluís Batlle, the former Synagogue street, Hernández street which still has its access closed, Cúndaro street or the upper stretch of Força street which received the street names Major del Call Judaic or del Mercadell as a medieval market was located at the end of it. At the end of the 14th century this street was declared by the Christian authorities to be a space forbidden to Jews and was renamed Sant Llorenç street.

In addition to Court dignitaries, doctors, financiers, scholars or intellectuals, the Jews of Girona were, in the main, traders or craftsmen with trades like binders, book sellers, cobblers, silversmiths, barbers, tailors, weavers, fur traders, mattresses makers, potters... In 1339 the rich silversmith Bonjudá Cresques, along with his son-in-law Saltell Gracià, lent the jurors 17,000 sueldos to carry out different works in the city.Astruc Ravaya, the Girona royal bailiff, acted as a delegate to King Pedro the Great when buying castles around Catalonia; his son Jucef was the royal treasurer of Catalonia and his other son Mossé was the general bailiff Catalonia and he granted the foundation charter of the town of Palamós in the king's name.

Gironella Tower

Gironella Tower. © J. M. Oliveras

Leaving behind the head of the cathedral and the retiring Jardines de la Francesa (French Lady's Gardens), Alemanys street and Pere de Rocabertí street lead to the former Caserna dels Alemanys, the site of an old barracks today converted into a Romantic garden amongst ruins and stretches of the wall which occupies the highest point of the city and constitutes the vertex of the triangle where the former Roman Gerundatakes shape.

It is at this complex where the Gironella Tower is situated, famous for serving as a refuge for Jews who were able to escape the slaughter and sacking of the Jewish quarter of 1391. After passing through Seville (June 4th), Valencia (July 9th), Majorca (August 2nd) and Barcelona (August 5th), on the night of August 10th a crowd of peasants got into the Jewish quarter and sacked it, bringing about the death of at least forty Jews who refused to be Christened.

The Gironella Tower

On August 18th 1391 a large number took refuge in the Gironella tower until on September 21st the first attack occurred. The case of the Jewess Tolrana, married to the convert Francesc Guillem de Vilaritg, became part of popular folklore when she said she would prefer to die as a Jew rather than have to convert to Christianity and return to her husband. Not all her fellow worshippers were of the same opinion: after 17 weeks of resistance, many ended up becoming New Christians.

The Jewish community would never be the same again and would progressively deteriorate until its disappearance in 1492. Having seen it population halved, the call starts being shared by Jews, converts and some groups of Christians. At the time of the expulsion barely two dozen families remain in the city, half of whom decide to leave and the other half to convert.Between 1487 and 1505 the Inquisition carried out 84 trials of converts in Girona who had been accused of continuing to practice Judaism, largely members of some of the most important families of the aljama. Ten of the accused were sentenced to death, eight convicted and subsequently rehabilitated and 66 sentenced in their absence (burnt) as they managed to flee though some were captured later.

Hernández Street

Picture of Hernández street from the building which cuts its passage to Força street. © J. M. Oliveras

On the right-hand side of Força street there lies a small street which currently has its two access sides bricked up and which runs parallel to the current Sant Llorenç street. It goes by the name of callejón de Hernández (Hernández alley) and it formed the link between the current Oliva i Prat street, previously called «calle de les mujeres (women's street)» and the current Força street, previously designated Sant Llorenç street.

In medieval times Hernández street was one of the streets going to make up the Jewish district.

Jewish Bakery

Claveria Street

On its East side, the call reached where Clavería street is currently located which, in medieval times, was called Ruca street. Here there was an oven where the inhabitants of Girona could bake their bread and which was maybe used by the Jews to bake mazzot or unleavened bread on Easter Sunday.

The oven

During the Middle Ages the ovens of the cities were of a public nature and could only be built or used under royal license. It was the norm for there to be at least one oven in each Jewish quarter at which bread was baked for daily consumption.

From an architectonic perspective, the Jewish oven had to be similar to those raised in other parts of the city: Making bread was not subject to any specific kind of ritual and hence the oven was not subject to any different aspect in its construction. This also means that a Jew could buy bread from a Christian or use a Christian oven to bake bread without transgressing any rules.

During the Passover unleavened bread was baked (matzah), without yeast, whose dough bore a seal. As it was a special kind of bread, in Jewish quarters where there was no oven, temporary ones could be built to bake it.

Jewish butcher's

Images of the excavation area where Jewish butcher's was located

The excavations in the courtyard of the Jewish History Museum in 2012 have revealed part of the structures of the old Jewish butcher's, to be precise, a 13th century wall and part of an arch which connected the rooms of what could possibly be the Jewish butcher's or a home annexed to the butcher's.

In 1492 a document specifically refers to the Jewish butcher's as a space annexed to the synagogueand it is to be supposed that this space mentioned in 1492 can be identified with that granted in 1426 as the shojet of the aljama by way of a municipal order which gave permission to the butcher of the call to carry out the slaughter and slicing of small animals, except for oxen, deer or cows in a farmyard of the calland not as had been done until then on the courtyard of his own house in the Jewish district.

After the expulsion, in all likelihood the butcher's building was demolished and what today serves as the museum courtyard was built.

The butcher´s

The meat eaten by the Jews had to be slaughtered according to a very strict religious ritual. This was carried out at the slaughterhouse and the meat was sold at the butcher´s.

The slaughterhouse, market or scaffold was a space which acquired a certain ritual nature by dint of the liturgy ( shejitah ) undertaken there whilst slaughtering animals whose meat was intended for human consumption (kosherfood). The norm was for the slaughterhouse to be located in an area on the outskirts of the Jewish quarter to avoid unpleasant odours in the city.

The meat was sold at the butcher´s where sales points were erected which were let out. The income obtained was used for certain needs of the aljama.

Jewish cemetery of Montjuïc

The headstones hall at the Museum of Jewish History, where is reproduced the field of the cemetery

By dint of an exchange of an estate which bishop Arnau de Creixell owned in Monte de los Judíos or Montjuïcon June 13th 1207, we know that the Jewish cemetery already existed in the 13th century between two streams and which, according to the document, was alodium hebreorum, in other words, Jewish freehold. Both this cemetery and the nave Montjuïc, given to the mountain, are signs of the antiquity and consolidation of the Jewish community in Girona.

The Jewish cemetery was located on the mountain of Montjuïc in Girona, in the north of the city, set between the current districts of Pedret and Pont Major. It was thanks to la construction of the railway line which had to link Girona to the French border in the late 19th century that the first steles appeared with Jewish inscription. In 1999 24 tombs were found, this time without any funeral headstone. Other headstones were found in different parts of the city and its outskirts, leading us to beleive that the Jewish cemetery was submitted to pillaging after 1492.

The Jewish History Museum at the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre houses and displays a magnificent collection of funeral steles and headstones from the Jewish cemetery of Montjuïc. They were recovered from different points of the city as from the late 19th century. They are funeral stoned dated between the 12th and 14th centuries and today they constitute the most important collection of those found in Spanish territory.

The cemetery

The cemetery was located outside the walls at a certain distance from the Jewish district. The chosen site:

  • Must be on virgin soil
  • Must be on a slope
  • Be oriented towards Jerusalem

The Jewish quarter had to have a direct access to the cemetery to prevent the burials from having to pass through the interior of the city.

After 1492 the monarchs authorised (in Barcelona in 1391) the reuse of stones from Jewish cemeteriesas construction material. It is thus not unusual to find fragments of Hebrew inscriptions in several subsequent constructions.

Despite the pillaging they suffered from the late 14th century, the memory of these cemeteries has remained in the name in certain places, for instance, Montjuïc in Barcelona or Girona. We are aware of the existence of more than twenty medieval Jewish cemeteries. Others are only known of thanks to the documentation or the headstones conserved. The one in Barcelona at Montjuïc was excavated in 1945 and 2000, the one in Seville in 2004, the one in Toledo in 2009 and the one in Ávila in 2012.

Manuel Cúndaro Street

Manuel Cúndaro Street. © J. M. Oliveras

Manuel Cúndaro street, along with Sant Llorenç street, undoubtedly forms the most charming area of the whole call. At the crossroads of Cúndaro and Clavería streets with Pujada de la Catedral (the Pera steps), there stood one of the large wooden gates which, in the event of danger, closed and confined the Girona call.

Along with the streets of Sant Llorenç and Hernández (the latter closed at both ends), they connect the upper limit of the Jewish call, Clavería and Doctor Oliva i Prat streets, with Força street.

This road used to be called Carreró de l´Ardiaca (it should be borne in mind that the building at the end, in the upper part, bears this name Casa del Ardiaca) and in the 19th century it was called Bosqui street.

At the corner of this street with Força street, at its northern part, tradition states this was the site of the house of the famous Bonastruc ça Porta, Moses ben Nahman.

Mossé ben Nahmán, Nahmánides

The most prominent figure within the context of Jewish Girona was the rabbiMoses ben Nahman, also known as Nahmanides or Ramban and, according to some historians, by the Catalan name of Bonastruc ça Porta. This philosopher, exegete, poet and doctor was born in the city in around 1194. He was a wise, pious man who left his mark on the history of Girona and all of Catalonia.

He followed the Kabbalistic postulates and acted wisely as a mediator the confrontation between traditionalists and maimonidists. In 1263 he took part in the controversy known as the Disputation of Barcelona in which he dialectically came up against the convert Pau Cristià (Pablo Christiani) to publicly defend – and at the request of the King – the Jewish religion. Shortly afterwards he set off for the Holy Land; he died at San Juan de Acre in Israel in around 1270.

His memory is alive and well and his work is still a mandatory reference for a knowledge of how people thought and felt in medieval times

Mezuzah at Institut Vell square

Mezuzah at Institut Vell square. © J. M. Oliveras

A few metres on from Força street, on the right is the l´Institut Vell square where the access to the City History Archive is located and which conserves some important document related with the history of the Jewish community. At the square the gateway of the house at number 33 conserves on one of the stones of its jambs the hole of the Mezuzah, one of the distinguishing features identifying the houses of the Jews of Girona.

The mezuzah

The Bible twice orders the Jews (Deuteronomy. 6:9 and 11:20):

And you shall write them (the words of God) upon the doorposts of your house and upon your cities´ gates.

The Hebrew word for doorpost, mezuzah, has become the name of the object itself, the mezuzah, a rectangle of parchment on which the relevant biblical passages of Deuteronomy are written, 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

On its back appears the word SHADDAI, one of the Names of God and the acronym of Shomer Dlatot Israel (protector of the gates of Israel).

The parchment is rolled up and placed diagonally on the lintels of the houses to always bear in mind the divine Word and Law. To protect the parchment, it is placed in a groove, rectangular and rounded, arranged vertically on the right doorpost and it is covered in glass or placed in a box with different forms and materials.

Mezuzot at Casa Laporta

Mezuzah at Laporta house

Laporta house is now a private residence on Cúndaro street and in its cellar it conserves the medieval structures of a jumble of alleyways of the callonto which the doors of Jewish houses opened out in their day. Grooves can still be observed on the old doors for placing the mezuzah in its original place.

The mezuzah

The Bible twice orders the Jews (Deuteronomy. 6:9 and 11:20):

And you shall write them (the words of God) upon the doorposts of your house and upon your cities´ gates.

The Hebrew word for doorpost, mezuzah, has become the name of the object itself, the mezuzah, a rectangle of parchment on which the relevant biblical passages of Deuteronomy are written, 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

On its back appears the word SHADDAI, one of the Names of God and the acronym of Shomer Dlatot Israel (protector of the gates of Israel).

The parchment is rolled up and placed diagonally on the lintels of the houses to always bear in mind the divine Word and Law. To protect the parchment, it is placed in a groove, rectangular and rounded, arranged vertically on the right doorpost and it is covered in glass or placed in a box with different forms and materials.

Monument to Anne Frank

Monument to Anne Frank. © Pedres de Girona

Skirting on the right round the church of Sant Pere de Galligants and after crossing the Galligants stream, the itinerary ends at the Doctor Figueres gardens were the monument dedicated to Anne Frank in 1998 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her Diary allows us to ascertain how a distant past and one more recent have crossed paths in a corner of this city where the mark of the Jews who settled it for hundreds of years is still very much alive and indelible.

Pia Almoïna

Pia Almoïna

At Apòstols square, alongside the cathedral, the vast construction which occupies the left-hand part, is currently the College of Architects but in its day it accommodated Pía Almoina or Alms House of Giron. On the three current bodies of the building, the central one with its tower dates from the 12th century and was gradually taken up by Jewish houses before the Cathedralʼs Chapterhouse bought them from the Jews to expand its charitable foundation which was in operation until the 18th century.

Pujada a la catedral (Pera Steps)

Pujada a la catedral. Las Escaleras de la Pera

The space currently occupied by house number 23 of Força Street was the site of the main synagogue in Girona in the Middle Ages. It was active as from the 13th century and until 1415 at which time it was closed by order of the King. A commemorative inscription thereof has been conserved at the Jewish History Museum. It was an ample space with different outbuildings for the use of the community such as a prayer and meeting room, a room for women, baths and a mikveh, some wells and access porticoes.

Sant Domènec Convent-University

Sant Domènec Convent. © Aniol Resclosa

In the Alemanys Garden, very near Gironella Tower, there is an access to the wall wall-walks with magnificent views over Girona and its barri vell (old district). From here you can gain an idea of the proportions of the old Sant Domènec convent, today the Faculty of Arts of Girona University. The square flanking it was the site in 1409 of a mass anti-Jewish sermon by St. Vincent Ferrer which the Jews were obliged to listen to behind wooden fences.

Back in the gardens, and through them, a small clearing leads to the gate of San Cristobel where the route continues outside the wall through a spectacular Archaeological Promenade. Julia tower and Gironella tower define the profile of the large wall alongside which the cathedral is located on a path descending amongst flowers, vines and cypresses.

Sant Llorenç Street

Via Sant Llorenç street access could be gained to the building which houses the last synagogue, today the head offices of the Bonastruc Ça Porta Centre. © J. M. Oliveras

One of the most emblematic streets in Girona is Sant Llorenç, the centre of the call in the 15th century. At the same entrance of Sant Llorenç street at Força it is still possible to locate the hinges of the old gate which kept these steps closed until 1975. In the middle of its steep steps was the gate which led , via an access of courtyards and porches, to the building which houses the last synagogue in the 15th century. It currently houses the head offices of the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre.

Sobreportes Gate

Sobreportes Gate

The impressive Sobreportes Gate, providing access to the medieval city and near the Jewish quarter, is situated alongside the Roman wall. It is here that the entry to the barri vell (old district), declared Historic-Artistic Heritage, commences, leaving behind on the right the Palace of Justice and opening up on the left as far as the large staircase of the cathedral.

Tapestry of Creation

Jewish figures on a red background in the Creation Tapestry. © J. M. Oliveras

One of the many treasures held by the Cathedral is the magnificent Creation Tapestry from the 11th to the 12th century; on one part of the tapestry are two individuals with the word iudei (Jews) identifying them: a splendid, early iconographic portrayal in the city which has become the symbol of the Jewish History Museum.

The proximity of the Jewish quarter to the cathedral constituted a permanent source of conflicts between the Jews and Christians of Girona. Already since the late 13th century there have been numerous attacks on the callowing to Easter Week or at other times of extreme religious fervour. In 1436 the King had to prohibit the custom of the stoning of Jews by students and the clergy from the cathedral.

The Call

The houses hanging over Onyar River. In the background, the cathedral and the belltower of Sant Feliu church

In the 12th century the Jewish community moved to the lower part of the old city. In 1160 they already lived in the call, a Catalan name for the Jewish districts coming from the Latin callis. In the Middle Ages it meant «set of narrow streets».

During the course of the 13th and 14th centuries these paved, narrow and labyrinthic streets constitute the urban space where the majority of the Jewish population of Girona and its institutions were located and also where Christian workshops and houses were established. It was after the conflicts of the 14th century that the call became a space of confinement. In 1448 a municipal order gave a timeframe of six days to abandon the houses that the Jewish families had outside the site and move to the delimited space of the reduced call.

The call had a fishmonger's, an oven and a butcher's which ensured the faithful had Kosherfood. We know that in the 15th century there was a butcher's annexed to one of the synagogues right in the centre of the callwhere an expert rabbi, the shojet, would carry out the ritual throat-cutting(shejitá) of the animals and the subsequent examination of the meat. There were also institutions characteristic of the aljama: a hospital, an orphanage, a charity house and the synagogue.

Away from the city centre, on the Montjuïc mountain side, the Jews had their own cemetery.

In the latter half of the 15th century, the call gradually became an ever smaller area, turning into a place of confinement and exclusion from the medieval city.

The Kabbalah School

The Kabbalistic movement originated in Provence, Languedoc, within the intellectual and religious circle of Moses of Narbonne and in the 12th century leading to the first Kabbalistic book written in Rabbinic Hebrew: the Sefer ha-Bahiror Book of Splendour.

Medieval Kabbalists were regarded as forming part of a very old esoteric tradition which came from Sinai and which was based on the mystic experiences of the Rabbi of the Mishnah Simón bar Yohay, discernible in the Talmud. The Kabbalah was thus a branch of mystic and esoteric philosophy based on a belief in «divineemanations» (sefirot) which go to make up the created universe. The purpose of Kabbalah was to understand, analyse and perceive the world which is beyond rational knowledge; the elements going to make up the Creation and the same divine essence. The Kabbalists aimed to capture the reality of a God understood as an infinite organism of spiritual elements.

Kabbalistic doctrine, based on the biblical exegesis and esoteric knowledge, originating in the 11th century amongst the Jews of Provence, in the circle of Moses of Narbonne, soon spread around the nearby communities.

In around 1200 the Kabbalah reached Girona thanks to some disciples of the wise man of Narbonne Isaac Sagi Nahor (Isaac the Blind) who had disciples in the community of Girona. The study of Kabbalah son developed in the city: Girona began to be regarded as one of the most prominent centres within the framework of esoteric thought and was already known as a Mother of Israel city. In Girona illustrious thinkers developed their theories such as Jacob ben Seshet Gerondí, the poet Meshulam ben Selomó de Piera and the great philosophers Ezra ben Selomó and Azriel de Girona.

The first synagogue

Ancient location of the first synagogue, near the cathedral and the Episcopal Palace

The first synagogue of Girona was located alongside the Cathedral between the latter and the Episcopal Palace. If its dating in the 9th century is confirmed by historians, it would be the oldest synagogue in Catalonia.

It must have been a small building, perhaps a house or small old construction reused by the Jews. It was abandoned by the Jews at the time when the latter moved to the medieval call.

The synagogue

The synagogue (place of congregation, in Greek) is a Jewish temple. It faces Jerusalem, the Holy City, and it is a place for religious ceremonies, communal prayer, studying and meeting.

The Torahis read at the ceremonies. This task is conducted by the Rabbis aided by the cohen or singing child. The synagogue is not only a house of prayer but also an instruction centre as it is there where the Talmudic schools are usually run.

Men and women sit in separate sections.

The synagogue interior contains:

  1. The Hejal closet located in the east wall, facing Jerusalem, stored inside the Sefer Torah, the scrolls of the Torah, the Jewish sacred law.
  2. The Ner Tamid, the everlasting flame always lit before the Ark.
  3. The menorah, a seven-armed candelabrum, a habitual symbol in worship.
  4. The Bimah, place from where the Torah is read.

The last synagogue

The Star of David courtyard in the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre, where was located the last synagogue. © J. M. Oliveras

The first segregation edict of 1418 made the synagogue unusable as it was situated in Força street and was inaccessible for the Jewish community because it fell outside the limits of the closed call. Hence, on November 10th 1434 the jurors granted Bonastruc de Mestre, Astruc Avinai and Bonastruc Jucef, all Jews, permission to build houses in the courtyards of the call which could have contained the last synagogue in the city: the house and street of Astruc Avinai, to the east, and the house of Jaume Falcó, also a Jew, to the north, seem to indicate this. This third synagogue was only used until 1492.

This synagogue, is the so-called last synagogue of Girona and it had, in turn, a hospital, butcher's and a Mikveh.

On July 9th 1492 the set of buildings was sold where the third synagogue was located. It was bought by Jordi Rafart, a priest who was a cathedral incumbent, for a sum amounting to less than half the sale of Lleó Avinai's house, less than 30 pounds.

At present, the landmark building where the last synagogue in Girona was located, now houses the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre which accommodates the Jewish History Museum and the Nahmanides Studies Institute.

The synagogue

The synagogue (place of congregation, in Greek) is a Jewish temple. It faces Jerusalem, the Holy City, and it is a place for religious ceremonies, communal prayer, studying and meeting.

The Torahis read at the ceremonies. This task is conducted by the Rabbis aided by the cohen or singing child. The synagogue is not only a house of prayer but also an instruction centre as it is there where the Talmudic schools are usually run.

Men and women sit in separate sections.

The synagogue interior contains:

  1. The Hejal closet located in the east wall, facing Jerusalem, stored inside the Sefer Torah, the scrolls of the Torah, the Jewish sacred law.
  2. The Ner Tamid, the everlasting flame always lit before the Ark.
  3. The menorah, a seven-armed candelabrum, a habitual symbol in worship.
  4. The Bimah, place from where the Torah is read.

The second synagogue

Ancient location of the second synagogue, on 23, Força Street

The main synagoguefrom the 13th century was located in the middle area of the call, on the left of Força street; at the present number 23 and opposite the current Cathedral Steps (or Virgin of the Pear). The complex had wells, baths (Mikveh) and an area for women.

On October 24th 1415 in line with the Popes' orders after the Disputation of Tortosa, the synagogue began to be closed which as finally shut on November 10th 1415. Notwithstanding, it was reopened with the permission of Prince Alfonso on March 5th 1416 and continued to be used for some years.

After the construction of the third and last synagogue, the city jurors asked on May 25th 1442 for a chapel to be built on the plot of the former synagogue, assuring that the Jews had not used it for twenty years as it was far from the area where they live. In the end, the chapel was not built and the estate continued to be the property of the Jewish community. On July 12th 1492 the governors of the aljama sold to Pere Grau Terrades a house which had used to serve as a Jewish school or synagogue. The document states that it was the old synagogue. The selling price was 10 florins.

The synagogue

The synagogue (place of congregation, in Greek) is a Jewish temple. It faces Jerusalem, the Holy City, and it is a place for religious ceremonies, communal prayer, studying and meeting.

The Torahis read at the ceremonies. This task is conducted by the Rabbis aided by the cohen or singing child. The synagogue is not only a house of prayer but also an instruction centre as it is there where the Talmudic schools are usually run.

Men and women sit in separate sections.

The synagogue interior contains:

  1. The Hejal closet located in the east wall, facing Jerusalem, stored inside the Sefer Torah, the scrolls of the Torah, the Jewish sacred law.
  2. The Ner Tamid, the everlasting flame always lit before the Ark.
  3. The menorah, a seven-armed candelabrum, a habitual symbol in worship.
  4. The Bimah, place from where the Torah is read.

Glossary