GIRONA, Spain, July 13, 2006 — The Catalonian city of Girona is showcasing its Jewish heritage now through September 15 with a special package called “The Doors of Remembrance.” Along with a tour of the city’s historic Call or Jewish Quarter – one of the best preserved in Europe – visitors will enjoy a lunch or dinner of Sephardic specialties and a night’s accommodation at a choice of hotels. The highlight is a dramatized one-hour-and 45-minute walking tour through the narrow cobblestone lanes, high stone walls and step streets of the Call de Girona, allowing visitors entrée to private courtyards and gardens. The tour departs from the Centre Bonastruc ça Porta, an institute of Jewish learning built around the old Synagogue on Carrer de la Força, the main artery of the medieval quarter which has remained amazingly intact over the centuries.
Recently, much of the Call has been restored under the supervision of the Centre also home to the Museu d’Història dels Jueus (Jewish History Museum) – which has developed a map of the maze-like streets and hosts small exhibits on Carrer de la Força. Many of the restored buildings now house art galleries, upscale boutiques and trendy restaurants. While the tour does not include the Museu d’Història dels Jueus, it is well worth a visit. Containing the most accurate information about medieval Jewish communities in Spain, particularly those in Catalonia, the museum’s exhibits provide a picture of daily life in the quarter, Jewish traditions and the region’s most influential calls. The Hebrew lapidary (tombstone) collection is considered to be one of the finest in the world. A third phase, set to open soon, will present the economic and professional activities of Catalan Jews and their co-existence – and sometime conflicts – with their Christian neighbors.
First settled by the Iberians, Girona was not named until the Romans arrived in 218 BC. By the end of the 9th century, Jews had formed a semi-independent town within Girona becoming an important influence in the area’s development. It was here that a great many texts of the kabbala, the Jewish school of mysticism, were developed. Under the protection of the Spanish kings for centuries, the Jews prospered – over a thousand in the Call alone – until an attack on their community in 1391 began a wave of persecution that did not end until 1492, when the Jews were compelled to leave Spain.
Easily explored in a day, Girona’s historic sights reflect its long fascinating history. Visible from most points in the city and a five-minute walk down hill from the Jewish quarter, the Gothic Cathedral dates from 1416 and contains stunning stained glass windows and the world’s largest single-naved vault. Up a monumental flight of 90 steps and inside are: a 10th century copy of a Beatus manuscript “Commentary on the Apocalypse,” the best preserved Romanesque tapestry in Europe and an enormous 19th century organ. Next door, the Museu d’Art, housed in the former Bishop’s Palace, contains Romanesque to 20th century works with two notable Gothic manuscripts. The Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, in an 18th century mansion, has an eclectic group of works documenting Girona’s past from prehistory to the 20th century. The top floor contains a collection of paintings by Catalan artists, including Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. From the Cathedral’s steps, visitors can see the Gothic bell tower of the Església de Sant Feliu, the city’s best-known landmark.
For “The Doors of Remembrance” package, travelers can choose from the five-star AC Palau de Bellavista ($315, double) to the one-star Pensió Margarit ($155, double). Other hotels are: the four-star Hotel Històric ($275), four-star Hotel Ciutat de Girona ($255), three-star Hotel Costabella, ($235) and one-star Hotel Peninsular ($173). A lunch or dinner of Sephardic fare is part of the package. Guests staying at the AC Palau de Bellavista dine at the hotel’s Nummun Restaurant which has spectacular views of the city and those overnighting at Pensió Margarit or Hotel Peninsular can eat at La Llarga. Travelers visiting Girona for the day can enjoy a meal for as little as $25 at Blanc at the Hotel Ciutat de Girona, L’Spaghetteria and Bau Bar. Jewish cuisine in Catalonia can be as varied as lamb stew with chick peas and cinnamon or local fish cooked in fresh herbs.
Tours in English for “The Doors of Remembrance” package are offered Saturday mornings at 11:30 AM, from now until September 9 and can be purchased separately for $15 and reserved on the web site. For more information, go to www.ajuntament.gi/call/eng/vis_complements.php and to book the package, email email@example.com or contact the individual hotels. For information about Spain, contact your travel provider or the Tourist Office of Spain in New York (212-265-8822); Miami (305-358-1992); Chicago (312-642-1992) or Los Angeles (323-658-7188) or go to www.spain.info