GIRONA the so-called “City of the Four Rivers” is located about 60 miles north of Barcelona and has a population of around 75,000 people. The city features a truly wonderful historic centre dominated by medieval buildings and many reminders of the city’s Roman, Arab and Jewish past. Girona is a wonderful place for a short break or as a base for longer stays.
Inside the walled enclosure of the city; La Forca Vella, you find The Call Jueu, or JEWISH QUARTER, where the Jewish community lived for six centuries from 890 to 1492. It is considered to be one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Western Europe. The Jews exercised a great influence here and projected their skills and knowledge far beyond the city limits. Life in the “aljama” (Jewish community) was concentrated around the synagogue, which had various sites over the years. The very prestigious "Kabbalistic School" was founded here, the first in the Iberian Peninsula. There is an exhibition in the Bonastruc Ca Porta Centre (named after the Rabbi of the Girona Cabalists and which contains THE MUSEUM OF HISTORY OF THE JEWS and the Nahmanides Institute) on the way of life of the Girona Jews. It features one of the most important collections of Jewish tombstones in Europe.
Girona´s CATHEDRAL, which is reached by an incredibly steep rococo staircase, is home to the widest gothic nave in world. The cathedral is the result of various superimposed styles (11th – 18th centuries). Of the first Romanesque building (1038), the cloister and part of the tower are conserved. The Cathedral’s Museum displays the famous 12th century Tapestry of the Creation, the 10th century Beatus Codex and a rich collection of medieval gold and silverwork. The GIRONA ART MUSEUM, located in the old Episcopal Palace, is where some of the most important medieval art collections of Catalonia are exhibited.
If you visit the cathedral close to sunset, be sure to climb the narrow streets behind, to the city walls. From here the view over the city and entire plain is breathtaking.
Close to the cathedral are the 13th-century Banys Arabs ARAB BATHS which are well worth visiting. Despite the presence of elements of Muslim origin, this is a Romanesque building, inspired by the Roman thermal or public baths. The most interesting of the three rooms, each holding pools with different water temperatures, is the frigidarium, or cold water room, with its rustic vault and central dome resting on slender columns.
In the Old Quarter too, be sure to see the AGULLANA MANSION (14th – 17th century) a noble house. The mansion, together with the adjoining steps and façade of the Sant Martí Acosta, make up one of the most outstanding Baroque ensembles in Spain. The covered, biased arch of the mansion has long been one of the most photographed icons of the city.
The RAMBLA DE LA LIBERTAT is one of the city’s busiest and liveliest spots, due to its physical attractiveness and its role as the principal commercial centre. This area, used as a market as far back as medieval times, bursts into bloom on Sunday mornings for the flower market. A great variety of shops and cafés shelter beneath the characteristic arches and porches along this street; living testimony of the continued use of this area over the centuries.
The HOUSES OF THE ONYAR which are situated on the banks of the River Onyar and the bridges which span it are one of the most typical and spectacular sights of Girona. These houses overlooking the river were built towards the end of the Middle Ages, and were attached to the walls which encircled the old quarter and the Mercadal borough. On a clear day, the reflection in the river of these colorful houses and the occasional line of washing blowing in the breeze is quite spellbinding.
On the north side of the town you can relax at one of the many cafes and restaurants which surround the PLACA DE LA INDEPENDECIA, a colonnaded 18th century square just across the river from the Old Quarter. Afterwards, visit the nearby MUSEUM OF CINEMA which is the only one in Spain.
Girona´s excellent location between the Pyrenees and the Costa Brava makes it an ideal central point to take excursions to the beaches of Costa Brava and the pretty coastal towns of Begur, Tamaríu, Calella de Palafrugell. Also Peratallada, a beautifully preserved small medieval town of honey-coloured sandstone.
Another good trip is to the north into the volcanic Garrotxa region with the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance. See Besalu, a pretty medieval town with a very impressive 12th century fortified stone bridge, built at an unusual angle, with a tower and eight arches of irregular proportions. There are also the remains of a Jewish Call here including a Romanesque Mikwah or ritual bathhouse connected to a synagogue. It is said to be one of only three ever found in Europe.
Olot, accessed via winding mountain roads which have inspired many Catalan painters, is also worth visiting not least for the journey itself which runs though the national park where ancient villages doze beneath dormant volcanoes.
****THE DALÍ TRIANGLE****
The collectionist Reynold Morse, the founder of the Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg (U.S A.), was the first to use the term "Daliland" to refer to the painters native Catalan region of Empordá, which he considered essential to the understanding of his cosmography. The Dali route is shaped like a triangle, with Figueres, Cadaques-Portlligat and Púbol as the three corners. Each of these places is easily visited from Girona.
FIGUERES, where Salvador Dalí was born and died, is where the Theatre-Museum is located. The Theatre-Museum, built over the former 19th century Municipal Theatre which was burnt down at the end of the Civil War, was officially opened on 28 September 1974. Most of Dalí´s works are in this museum and Dalí himself is also buried here alongside the church that was the scene of both his christening and his funeral.
CADAQUES, a white-walled fishing village at the tip of the Cap de Creus peninsula, was the Dalís´ summer home. Here, one can see many of the landscapes painted by the young Dali. When Dali met Gala, he broke away from his family and bought a fishermens hut situated between a small jetty and the road to Cadaques, in the village of PORTLLIGAT. He lived here permanently from 1930 onwards - except during the Civil War and the ensuing years- gradually altering and enlarging the property. The house and garden, which is full of olive trees, together occupy some 10,000 m2, and the site has been protected by law since 1953. Every detail of the house bears his imprint, from the dissected bone at the entrance to the sculpture known as Our Lord of the Refuse in the middle of the garden. The most significant feature, however, are the large eggs standing on the roof, which he later repeated in the remodeling of Torre Galatea in Figueres. The house still contains the original furniture and decoration - the paintings and documents are at the Theatre-Museum - which has been open to the public since 1997.
PUBOL Castle stands in a small hamlet a few kilometres from La Bisbal. Dali gave the castle to Gala in the spring of 1970, on the condition that he himself would not enter it unless personally invited by Gala. He restored the old Gothic-Renaissance palace, furnished it with items bought from antique dealers in the area and filled the garden with sculptures. He painted some frescoes inside and later did two water colours entitled View of Pubol and another painting, Galas Castle at Pubol. In the basement he built the crypt where Gala is buried. On the day of her death, 10 June 1982, Dali left Portlligat and went to live in Pubol alongside his muse. During the two years he spent there, he painted his last oil paintings, signed his will, created the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, directed the Dalinization of Torre Galatea in Figueres, and received the title of Marquis Dali of Pubol.
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