The cathedral – a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and a landmark of Girona – has fascinated visitors of the city ever since. But Girona has a lot more to offer than the widest Gothic stone vault (23 m) ever built. Right at the entrance of the historic centre – at the beginning of Carrer Calderers (“calderers” were the coppersmiths) and where an old city gate was located – one can find a column with a lioness on it – “la lleona”.
Next to it, a metal staircase. The lioness originally was attached to the façade of a hostel right next to the city gate. Those who wanted to come back to Girona climbed up and kissed it. In order to preserve the tradition a copy of the old lioness still watches the city, while the original, which dates back to the 12th century, now can be seen in an art museum. The steps were built to make kissing easier. There also is an old saying that maintains: “One is not really a citizen of Girona unless having kissed the lioness’s butt”. The polished butt speaks for itself. Following the alley a bit further one reaches the “Museu i arxiu d’història de la ciutat”, the town’s history museum. The room on the right side after climbing the stairs used to be a water reservoir. The water level markers can still be seen on the wall. We continue our walk up to the cathedral. The sound of the organ is filling the gigantic nave. Incense in the air. The 12 o’clock mass has just finished.
Taking pictures is not allowed. Dalí was fascinated by the painting showing Sant Narcís (Saint Narcissus) with flies. He never missed an opportunity to get to the cathedral to see it. The legend tells that when the French besieged and looted Girona in 1286, they destroyed churches and cut off the arm of Sant Narcís, former bishop and holy patron of the city. After doing so, gigantic flies started to swarm out of the patron’s dead body and killed the French soldiers and their horses. The same is said to have happened in the years 1653 and 1684. And it might be the origin of Dalí’s fascination for flies. Right next to the cathedral’s portal one can see a head carved in stone which could be easily confused with Dalí – only that the stone sculpture is several hundred years older than the surrealist ‘maestro’. Did Dalí know his counterpart? Did he twirl his mustache and roll his eyes because he wanted to imitate this figure? Another detail can be discovered at the side portal, where the twelve apostles are no longer there because they also have fallen victim to the French. Their empty sockets are carried by monsters! On one pillar of the cathedral there is a gargoyle in the form of a woman, of whom the legends refer to as a witch who threw stones at a procession, until she was punished to become stone herself. An old folk song therefore warns “throw stones, throw stones and stone you will become!” Just a few steps from the cathedral there is the old Jewish quarter. The “Call de Girona” is one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Catalonia and one of the most important Jewish heritages of Spain.
The alleys of Cúndaro and Sant Llorenç are the steepest and narrowest among the streets around Carrer Força. The Jewish community once had about 300 members, forming the biggest Jewish Catalan community apart from Barcelona. However, the peaceful coexistence of religions ended in the second half of the 13th century, when the Jews increasingly became the targets of anti-Semitic attacks and finally were expelled from Spain in 1492. We continue our walk to the Carrer dels Ciutadans, where the city’s upper classes used to reside and where one can still see magnificent mansions, e.g. the Romanesque building Fontana d’Or, which now houses the “Centre Cultural de Caixa de Girona”. Shortly before arriving at the town hall we stop at some old shops. We especially like the delicatessen. Then we get to the square in front of the Ajuntament, which has to offer another bizarre sculpture. I t decorates the mighty entrance of the plenary hall in the inner courtyard and shows a man biting his own tongue and thereby urging the council members to exercise discretion. A tree grows out of his head: a symbol of wisdom. The Rambla de la Llibertat is a boulevard for strolling and shopping. Between the Rambla and the Carrer dels Ciutadans, in the narrow alleyways, we find the smallest square in town: Plaça del Raïm. Rafael Masó – one of the most important architects of Catalan art nouveau, the so-called Modernisme – has left many marks in Girona. Splendid examples: the residences Masó, Enesa, Batlle and Colomer, the flour factory Teixidor, and the Casa de la Punxa in Avinguda de Santa Eugènia. The promenade along the city walls, built in 1985, offers stunning views over the rooftops of the old town, the university, and the monumental ensemble of churches. Girona can be visited the whole year round, although it is especially beautiful in the month of May, when the traditional flower festival “Temps de flors” is celebrated. Then the air is filled with the scent of thousands of flowers, the eyes blinded by thousands of colours, the cafés on the streets are filled with young people from all over Europe, and the night in the clubs never ends. It is in part due to the many university students that Girona has become a vibrant urban centre in the hinterland of the Costa Brava. It is a city that successfully holds the balance between old and new, tradition and modernity, nationalism and internationality. If you land at the airport of Girona, you shouldn’t miss a walk through the wonderful old centre of the city!