As we endure the COVID lockdown I thought I would look back to happier times and in particular a visit to the Spanish city of Girona.
Girona is a city which does not always feature on the popular tourist map of Spain but it is delightful for lovers of history and culture. From the United Kingdom the city can be reached by numerous direct flights from the airports of London, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands and Leeds-Bradford.
Built on hills, the city has many narrow winding streets with period buildings and hidden treasures such as its cathedral. The producers of the smash hit TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ immediately saw its potential and used it for many of the famous series locations, especially the mysterious city of Braavos. Arya Stark, a major character in the series, trained here as a ‘faceless one’ under the magical tutelage of Jaqen H’ghar, disciple of the Many-Faced God.
But the real-life architecture and history of Girona is just as interesting as anything fictional.
Architecture in Girona
Any self respecting Roman city had its bath house and Girona is no different. The bath house is extremely well preserved complete with the characteristic Roman arches and pillars.
The city’s cathedral sits on top of a steep hill with popular cafes at the bottom which sell delicious snacks and beverages. The many steep steps at the front of the cathedral require a certain amount of physical fitness to negotiate!
In addition to the cathedral there are several more historic and beautiful churches, each with centuries of history behind it.
A lot of Girona’s old city walls are intact and walking along them affords a great view of the city and numerous photo opportunities.
Art and culture
Archaeologists think that the Roman mosaic at the top of this page might be related to chariot races. It was once part of a large mosaic which showed a complete panorama of a chariot race – the drivers, the audience, the Roman VIPs and the chariot stadium itself. This mosaic is one of several which have been found and restored by archaeologists.
Medieval Christian art
This painting shows the influence of Christianity and Byzantium on the late medieval painting style. Note the Byzantine style gold halos around the heads of the figures.
Christian relief sculpture of a type very common in ancient and medieval times. Sculpture such as this adorns many churches and crypts from the ancient to the medieval period in Girona.
The only place where flies are popular
Girona is a place where flies are popular. A plague of them emerged from the tomb of St Narcis, the patron saint of the city, to beat off French invaders in 1286. Consequently there are sculptures and paintings of flies around the city. I am glad to report that while in Girona I found no flies in my soup.
Girona had a thriving medieval Jewish community which was alas expelled in 1492, and sadly before that there was violence against the local Jews, including a massacre, as the monarchs of Catholic Spain gave orders to prevent the conversion of Christians to Judaism. Despite this, much of the Jewish quarter still remains and some of its synagogue survived the succeeding years to become a modern day tourist attraction and museum. It is well worth a visit and gives a fascinating glimpse into the medieval lives of the Spanish Jews.
The city museum is packed with artefacts from over two millennia of history: pre-Roman, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance and so forth. The museum itself is in a historic building.
In Girona one cannot help but notice the popular support for separatism. It is not the place of this blog to comment on such a contentious matter but the Catalonian flag was displayed in almost every street that we walked in. Apartments, shops, restaurants; it is obvious that support for the separatist movement is widespread.
Food and hotels
The city is well served by hotels and restaurants where visitors can enjoy a relaxing meal and a drink outside in the gentle afternoon or evening breezes.
When lockdown lifts Girona is a great place to reacquaint with the history, culture and pleasant climate of Spain.