Calle de la Forca was the centre of trade in Roman times and later became the main street of the Jewish Quarter. Today, in or near the Calle de la Forca, are:
the Museum of Jewish History,
the Museum of Art and
the Museum of City History. See the map below.
The site of the Girona Cathedral had been used by the Moors as a mosque since 717 AD, so it was only after their final expulsion that the building was entirely remodelled. Although visitors have to walk up c100 steep, hot and sweaty 17th century steps to reach the front, it is worth the climb. The renovated cathedral is an excellent example of Spanish Gothic architecture. Its 22 ms-wide interior is the second widest Gothic nave in the world, after St Peter's in Rome. Girona may have been a smallish city, but money was thrown at amazing stained glass work, and at marble for tombs of saints and church leaders.
Among the streets of the Jewish Quarter, the fit visitor can find his way among the narrow, labyrinthine lanes with stone steps. They give access to an old synagogue and the splendid Jewish home of the last patriarch of the Girona aljama, the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman (1194–1270). The home of Rabbi Ben Nachman today is the site of the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre which was renovated and reopened in 1975 as the Museum of Jewish History.
After the appalling massacre of 1391, is not clear to me why a community would have wanted to rebuild. But rebuild they did. In 1415 the king ordered that the synagogue in Calle San Lorenzo, and the adjoining mikveh/Jewish public bath, should be given back to the surviving community. In the long run, it didn’t help. 1442 the area of the Jewish quarter was reduced. In 1486 the Jews were prohibited from owning shops with windows and doors facing the main street. With the final 1492 expulsion order came for the Jews from Spain, the Girona community had dwindled away.
Lanes of the medieval Jewish quarter
During August concerts are held in the museum courtyard, offering a fine musical treat for visitors. Guided tours are available in the northern summer, but note that the museum is closed every Sunday afternoon. Although I haven’t been there at dusk, the silhouettes of Girona’s Jewish Quarter is said to create a strong sense of mystery, struggle and history.
I would have liked to have seen the scattered sites of Girona’s medieval Jewish homes and community facilities, not just be shown artefacts INSIDE the museum. Of course not much remains since 1492. However on the north side of the old city is the Montjuïc/Hill of the Jews, where the Jews had their religious cemetery. A collection of medieval tombstones from the Jewish cemetery survived and was transferred to the Jewish Museum. And in the gardens of the Caserna dels Alemanys in the highest part of the city, the ruins of the Gironella Tower still stand. This was where those Jews who fled the appalling massacre of 1391 sheltered. Finally clearing away nearly 700 years of construction, one builder discovered the remains of the town’s medieval yeshiva/rabbinic college founded by Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman.
Steps leading up to Girona's cathedral
I believe public baths for the Jewish community still survive, but there were no visible signs. No sign pointed out where the Jewish hospital, library, book binders or meat market had been, nor did I see where the medieval hostel for travelling family members or people on business once stood.
One place well worth seeing is located on the site of a former Capuchin convent. The City History Museum reserves a special corner of the long history of the city of Girona for the Jewish people. A visit to the exhibition rooms shows visitors the Roman Circus Mosaic, amongst other fascinating exhibits. The area was the home, for at least six centuries, to an educated Jewish community.
Note how the museums cluster around Calle de la Forca and the cathedral.