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.

circa 888
First Girona 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.

1015
The construction of Girona cathedral begins

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.

circa 1050
Jewish characters on the 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.

1160 - July 31st, 1492
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.

1194
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.

1194 - 1270
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

circa 1200
Second Girona 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.

1200
The Kabbalah arrives to Girona

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.

June 13rd, 1207
The Montuïc cemetery is mentioned in an exchange

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.

1339
Bonjudá Cresques and Saltell Gracià donate 17,000 salaries to the jurors

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.

August 18th, 1391
Girona's Jews take refuge in 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.

1426
A licence is granted to open a butcher's in a corral in the Call

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.

November 10th, 1434
The last Girona 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.

May 25th, 1442
The jurors request the construction of a chapel on the grounds of the second synagogue

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.

September1448
The Call is expanded to the north and to the south

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.

girona 1487 - 1505
Trials of the Inquisition in Girona

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.

1492
There are only 20 families left in the Girona call

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.

1862
The Jewish cemetery of Montjuïc is discovered

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.

1975
Calle Sant Llorenç is opened

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.

May 4th, 1998
Unveiling of the Anna Frank monument

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.

1999
24 Jewish graves are excavated in Montjuïc

In 1999 24 tombs were found, this time without any funeral headstone.

2000
Opening of the Jewish History Museum

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.

April2011
Astruc Abraham´s house is located

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.

2012
Excavations in the yard of the Jewish History Museum

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.

Glossary