Europe

A walk through the Call de Girona, the old Jewish quarter

We traveled to a city in northwestern Spain located in the autonomous community of Catalonia, a few kilometers from the French border. Our goal is to visit one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in the world: the Call of Girona.

This space is made up of a labyrinth of alleys and patios that preserve the essence of the Middle Ages. At that time, the Jews were forced to live in a segregated way in certain spaces of the cities. For this reason, in many European cities there is always a so-called Jewish quarter.

In the Iberic Peninsule, these neighborhoods disappeared in the year 1492, as the Catholic Monarchs ordered the expulsion of this group. This produced the departure of many Jews to other European cities, the forced conversion to Christianity and the disappearance of the Jewish quarters as a space segregated from the cities. Let’s see how this process was in Girona and then we’ll take a walk through the Call.

A little history of the Call of Girona

The first Jewish community in Girona dates back to the year 982, although until the year 1160 there is no reference to a large settlement, before only isolated houses were mentioned. Thus, in the 12th century, this neighborhood began to form with families that previously lived around the cathedral.

The main artery of the neighborhood was the current Força street. From this road a network of narrow and steep alleys was formed. For centuries this labyrinth was the home of the Jews of Girona, among whom stood out figures such as the thinker Jacob ben Sehet Gerundí, the poet Mesulam ben Selomó de Piera or the philosophers Ezra ben Salomó and Azriel de Girona.

The Call after the expulsion of the Jews

In the summer of the same year 1492 the exterior walls of the neighborhood began to be demolished. Many of the adjoining buildings were bought by Christian inhabitants who lived in the vicinity of the Jewish quarter and the urban structure of the Call began to be modified.

New buildings were erected houses were joined and separated and alleys disappeared. In short, the appearance of the old neighborhood of the city was changing. Of the houses that were on the west side of Força Street, practically none retain the structure that it had in the first centuries of the last millennium.

The preserved material and archaeological heritage of the Jews of this city is scarce. The prohibition of using human or animal figures in their artistic representations has favored that their material imprints are few. A couple of dozen tombstones have been preservedsome remains in the Call buildings and an important epigraphic collection.

Walking through the Call of Girona

The old neighborhood was located in the current Barri Vell. By the East, the limit was in the current ecclesiastical monumental zone where the episcopal palace, the cathedral and the beginning of the Archaeological walk are located.

The northern part bordered the old Mercadell and the current Plaza de la Catedral and what was the old town of San Feliu, which was annexed to the city. To the south it was bordered by the medieval neighborhood of citizens and merchants and, to the west, by the old wall that delimits Força and Ballesteries streets.

In the Call of Girona don’t expect to find big synagogues like there are in Prague or imposing buildings. But this is not necessary to enjoy this old neighborhood, because strolling through the narrow cobbled streets is already a magical experience. It is a journey through time that will transport you to medieval times.

In recent decades, much interest has been put into rehabilitating the neighborhood, work that has received the help of the Embassy of Israel. The Bonastruc ça Porta Center – Institut d’Estudis Nahmánides has been built. This center has one of the most important libraries in Spain on the history of the Jews and houses the Museum of the History of the Jews.

Many of you will be wondering where the synagogue is. Well, the building was sold after 1492 and thanks to the purchase and sale papers it was discovered that the Bonastruc ça Porta Center building houses the remains of the old synagogue of Girona.

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