Spain: A visit to Girona

A visit to Girona detailed in the Washington Post brought back wonderful memories of several visits.

Although a general travel article, there are a few paragraphs focused on the Call, the Jewish quarter, the scene of murder, mayhem and forced conversions in 1391, and whose residents were finally expelled in 1492.

The story, and the accompanying photo gallery, are well worth a look.

It covers the important things and the wonderful things.

The story reminds visitors about the Jewish quarter’s medieval cobblestoned steep stone steps and walkways which are difficult to maneuver if a visitor has any mobility issues. Wear good supportive sneakers or mountain-climbing sandals in appropriate weather; and do remember that stone is slippery in wet weather.

If you arrive by train – a short ride from Barcelona – take a cab up the steep hill, although some travel advisors say it is a quick walk. Don’t believe it. On our first trip there, we were advised that one could walk it. Tracing the Tribe took one look at the terrain and grabbed the first cab we saw. It was an excellent decision.

Once you’re on top, navigation isn’t too difficult, although there are so many lovely alleys, back streets and more – sometimes with a glimpse of private gardens – that only foot power can reach, and it would be a shame to miss them. The Nachmanides Center/Jewish Museum also offers various walking tours and occasionally these include private houses and gardens. I just learned that there’s now a two-hour Segway tour – what a great idea!

Every May, Girona celebrates Temps de Flors. This year, it’s May 8-16. Private homes and gardens are open to visitors. It’s the perfect time to visit Girona.

The Post story covers the central plaza, the cathedral and its old city plaza, great restaurants, wonderful views, the sense of history in every corner of the old city, tradition oozing from each stone.

It is easy to imagine what the Call might have looked like 500 years ago. It is also easy to understand how its Jewish residents felt during certain Catholic holidays when they were forced to remain barricaded inside their homes for fear of the mobs, during the tragic events of 1391 which decimated most Jewish communities across Spain, and in the period leading up to the their ultimate expulsion in 1492 and their hurried departure.

The Girona Archives are particularly rich in Jewish content, and several books providing collections of documents have been published. The museum bookstore should have copies – that’s where I purchased mine.

The restoration of the Call began in the 1980s, when the mayor (also a historian) rediscovered the ancient Jewish quarter, began the reconstruction of medieval buildings and made other changes.

Although no organized Jewish community exists today, there are some families who live there today and get together for holidays. Tracing the Tribe visited the Girona families several years ago and learned that they represent diverse origins and professions. Most are connected in some way to Atid, Barcelona’s Progressive congregation.

The stones of silence remain to be discovered by today’s visitors.

If you go, don’t forget to visit the Jewish museum, bookstore and other locations. Click here for more information on events in the Call, which even has a Facebook page.

While the Nachmanides Institute has an excellent library covering diverse subjects, genealogy – unfortunately – is not high on their priority list. When I was visiting the library several years ago, I met a family from New York searching their roots and although nothing much was in the library (except an outdated list of gen contacts), I was able to assist them with resources.

Today, searching online the Institute’s library catalogue for “genealogy,” only three results are found: A 1999 Avotaynu, the 1977 edition of Dan Rottenberg’s “Finding Our Fathers,” and the 2002 first edition of Jeff Malka’s “Sephardic Genealogy.”

See a future Tracing the Tribe post with some specific Sephardic genealogy sources, some are little-known outside of Spain.

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