The Old Town of Girona in Catalonia, Spain is the best part of this Costa Brava city for travel lovers with historic or cultural travel interests. Spain is, needless to say, replete with arts, culture, and a recorded history that spans back to before the Middle Ages. Costa Brava and Catalonia in general is unique in Spain: Bordering France, the Catalonian language is distinct from Spanish (my high school level Spanish speaking ability failed me repeatedly here), Catalonia currently is fairing much better economically than the rest of Spain, and the region was the first in Spain to legally ban bullfighting outright. This progress is interesting to see amid the centuries-old architecture. Girona, an ancient yet modern city, perhaps represents best the balance of the region as a whole. Its ties to the past are best seen in the Old Town of Girona while the modernity of Girona, Costa Brava, and Catalonia as a whole are more evidenced across the River Onyar.
Girona Town Hall and several modern plazas are walkable from the train station. Cross the River Onyar, though, and leave the trappings of the 21st century behind you. Goodbye internet cafes, see you later! As with every other European city with history tracing back to the expansion of the Roman Empire and the Medieval and Renaissance eras, the signs are obvious to a traveler when she sees them: Narrow streets, paved in cobblestone, with buildings crowding up the sidewalk, some in various states of decay and ruination. The old Roman Wall, crumbling in sections, still creates a boundary between Old Town Girnoa and the city’s outskirts.
An archeological walk, Arabian baths, the Jewish Quarter, the city walls and more make up Old Town Girona.
In the 11th century, Girona had a thriving Jewish community. In 1492, as historians know, the Spanish Inquisition drove the Jewish people from their homes and country — but today, in Old Town Girona, the Jewish ghetto is one of the best preserved in all of Europe. Calle de la Forca, the main road during Roman times runs right through the Jewish Quarter — just as it was once the center of trade in Girona, it still has many merchants in today’s shops and stores. Wandering around here can feel a bit poignant, as can be imagined. But today, this part of Old Town Girona is bustling, thriving, and humming with activity. The enormity of what happened in the Jewish Quarter (also known as the Call Jeue) of Girona can weigh on a visitor. To more fully understand the history and events of Girona, the Museum of Jewish History and Museum of City History both cover the pre- and post-Spanish Inquisition lives of Jewish Spaniards living here.
The Cathedral, built in the 12th and 13th century, has a Baroque Catalan style on one side, but otherwise is a well-preserved representation of the Gothic architectural style. Also look for the Sant Feliu church, in which lay the tombs of Girona’s founders, and Sant Pere de Galligants. This 12th century church has an archaeological museum within its walls.
There are a lot of terrific travel destinations in Spain, but if the Catalonian region of Costa Brava is on your itinerary, consider spending time in Old Town Girona. It’s the ideal part of a beautiful area of Costa Brava to appreciate the history and modernity of Spain. For the historically inclined traveler, in fact, it’s hard to imagine a better place.