Girona (sometime spelled “Gerona” in English) is the capital of the province of the same name. The province of Girona forms part of the region of Catalonia and is bordered by the provinces of Lleida and Barcelona. The Mediterranean sea also forms one of its borders.
The first inhabitants of Girona were the Iberians and later the Romans came and built a citadel. The citadel was given the name Gerunda. Eventually Girona fell under the control of the Romans and became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
In the 12th century the Jewish community prospered, and Girona was home to one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe, although this ceased in 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain by the Spanish monarchy. From the 17th to 18th century Girona fell under siege by the French and was eventually conquered by Napoleon in 1809 and under French rule until 1813. Today evidence of the city´s rich and varied heritage can be seen it its historic center.
From Barcelona, the easiest way to get to Girona is by train (Renfe) which can be boarded at the Sants or Passeig de Gracia train station. The time and price vary depending on which train you take, but the most common is the “media distancia” which costs 8.80 euros each way and takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. Trains tend to leave every 30 minutes but it´s better to check the website to be sure (www.renfe.es)
The city of Girona is divided by the Onyar river, which separates the old and new quarters. There are eleven bridges which cross the river, of which two of the most important are the Pont de Pedra and the Ponte de Ferro. The Pont de Pedra dates back to 1849 and substituted the medieval bridge that united the sides of the city. The Pont de Ferro (also known as the Pont de les Peixateries or the Pont d’Eiffel) was built in 1876 by the same company that constructed the Eiffel Tower.
The old city is quite compact and easy to explore on foot. A good place to start is the northern edge of the city, where the Roman wall begins. This is known as the “Passeig Arqueològic” (archeological walk). Within the walls you can see remains of a Roman road, which was built to connect Rome to Tarragona. If you continue along the wall you will pass the old quarter, including the Banys Arabs (Arabic Baths), the cathedral and the old Jewish quarter.
St. Mary´s Cathedral was built between the 11th and 17th centuries AD. It is a Gothic cathedral but incorporates many other architectural styles as it was built over the course of centuries. The original Roman buildings were built in the 11th and 12th centuries and the Gothic nave, which is the widest arched span in the world, was built in the 15th century. There are 86 steps which lead to the cathedral and a café with a terrace at the bottom of the steps which offers an amazing view.
The Banys Arabs houses ancient facilities that were used for public bathing. The building is actually Romanesque in design and architecture, and was inspired by the ancient Roman public baths. There are three rooms inside: the frigidarium (cold water) room, the caldarium (hot water) room, and the tepidarium (lukewarm water) room.
The Jewish quarter is known as “Call” and is considered one of the most extraordinary in Spain. It centers around Carrer La Força and once was home to one of Iberia’s most prosperous Jewish communities in the 13th century, nearly 20 percent of the city’s population at the time.
The Rambla, a wide pedestrian avenue in the old quarter, is an excellent place to shop, have a bite to eat, or meet for a drink in the evening. It has a good mix of shops and many bars and cafes with outdoor seating. On Saturdays there is a flower market until 2pm.
If you are lucky enough to be in Girona in May you might have a chance to experience one of Girona´s most unique traditions, Temps de Flors (A Time for Flowers). For one week, plant and floral exhibits can be found all over the old quarters of the city. The tradition began over 50 years ago with a small competition and has now grown into an exhibition which attracts visitors from around the world. The date varies from year to year and will be held from May 8-16 in 2010.
If you enjoy your time in Girona, there is one thing that you can do to help ensure that you come back. Near the steps of the St. Feliu church is a replica of a stone lion (La Lionesa) statue, the original of which can be found in the Girona art museum. Legend has it that if you climb up and kiss its bottom you are destined to return to Girona!
For more information upon arrival you can visit the tourist office, located on the Rambla de la Llibertat, near the bridge Pont de Pedra. It´s open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, Saturday from 8am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm, and Sunday 9am to 2pm.