After 24 hours of rain, I expect the city of Girona to be drowning, but the river which flows through the city is calm and the clouds have dissipated to leave clear blue skies.
There are many museums in Girona and the main ones offer a discount scheme so that after visiting the first one, the others are half price. But I only have one day and I don’t want to spend it all inside museums. So, I limit myself to just two.
I start with the Girona History Museum in the hope that it will offer me some good background information. It is spread over 4 floors of a former Capuchin monastery and a self-guided route takes me from the first Roman settlement, through medieval times, the Napoleonic War and the Spanish Civil War. There’s an interesting section about music and dance, as well as the Capuchin cemetery were the deceased friars were left to desiccate.
Just down the road, on the site of a Jewish Synagogue, is the Museum of Jewish History. In the late Middle Ages, up to 800 Jews lived in Girona. They worked in many trades, including goldsmiths, blacksmiths, tanners and tailors. Unfortunately, well before Hitler’s promotion of anti-Semitism, the Spanish Jews were persecuted by the Catholic Church. Those that did not agree to be baptised and renounce their Jewish faith were executed. The museum displays several stone tombs, including one which was rescued from a local garden, having been used as a fish pond.
Having a better understanding of the history of Girona, I wander down to the river and, from the pedestrian footbridge of Sant Augusti, I have a good view of the tall, terraced houses which overhang the water. I end up having lunch in one with a wonderful view of the Cathedral and Sant Feliu Church. I choose from the menu del dia and end up with a unusual assortment of dishes, not all good.
As the weather continues to bless me, I decide to walk the length of the city walls which stretch for over a kilometre around the eastern side of the city. They are very high and offer great views. I can clearly see the single towers of the Cathedral and Sant Feliu Church (in fact, they both look a bit lopsided, as if waiting to be completed) and beyond the red-tiled rooftops, the snow dusted peaks of the Garrotxa Volcanic Mountains.
For me, it seems criminal to charge entry to a holy place and it costs me €7 to visit Girona Cathedral. However, this also includes entry to Sant Feliu Church and a very good audio guide describing all the main features in some detail. Unfortunately, Charlemagne’s chair and silver canopy are hidden under scaffolding and cloth while they are being cleaned. The cloister is peaceful with each column capitol telling a biblical tale; Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his ark. However, the best has been saved for last. Hidden behind a panel at the far end of the treasury is the Creation Tapestry, a masterpiece from the 11th or 12th century depicting scenes from Genesis.
Sant Feliu Church also has some lovely features, detailed by another audio guide. A large marble chapel is dedicated to St Narcissus, the patron saint of the city. Above the silver casket containing the remains of the saint, is a large statue of him and on a side wall is a large painting depicting the miracle of the flies, when Sant Feliu saved the town from attack by the French in 1285 and 1653. Behind the main altar of the church, embedded into the walls, are eight 4th century Roman sarcophagi with detailed carvings of biblical stories and events.
Girona is a fantastic place to spend the day, especially if you are on a tight budget. Both the Museums I visited had free temporary exhibits which were equally as good as the main museums. Walking the walls is free, offers fantastic views of the city and some good exercise. Access to the Cathedral is free on Sunday and the Jewish Museum is free on the first Sunday of each month. There are many free car parks around Parc de la Devesa, if you don’t mind a short walk back into the city and, if you’re looking for somewhere nearby to spend the night in a motorhome, the then village of Quart has a nice, free Aire and the picturesque, medieval village of Besalu allows you to stay in their car parks for free.