Girona was mine when I stepped into its medieval ramparts, early in February this year. It was quite very cold and grey. The ancient town in the Catalonia region of Spain was deserted and I was not going to bemoan the lack of day-trippers. I had taken the train from Barcelona Sants early one morning and 40 minutes later was transported to another world when I entered its old town, perched upon Capuchin Hill. It involved quite a climb onto the hill that was named after the Capuchin order of friars who had arrived in Girona in 1581.
How yellow Girona is! You might exclaim. It was a bleak day you shall see in my shots of the town – till a meek, watery sunlight filtered in, halfway through my walk.
Sometimes, in a new place, I walk aimlessly. It makes me feel like I am on my own voyage of discovery. Quite a thrilling feeling that you might relate to, that is, if you are an incurable romantic.
Steep stone stairs and lots of cobble-stoned alleys lead you into the heart of what the ancient Iberians called home. Though around their time, Girona had another name – Gerunda. Girona sounds somehow better to the ears, does it not?
To get back to its coveted position as a highly wealthy town and thus the arrival of many marauders there. Girona was ruled by the Romans, followed by the Visigoths and then the Moors. Till it was regained by Charlemagne, the stalwart emperor of the Carolingian dynasty (it had peaked in 800 with Charlemagne crowned as the first Emperor of Romans in over three centuries) who had built a defensive wall in Girona.
The Moors sacked Girona time and again and were driven away from it many a time. An interestingly named count, Wilfred the Hairy (statues capture him wearing a skirt and robes which might have been quite a sight if he was as hairy as his name suggests) made Girona a part of the County of Barcelona in the 9th century.
It was prey to so many sackings that it made sense to me that Girona was surrounded by defensive walls. Passeig de la Muralla, along which I walked, are the remnants of those 14th century walls which were taken down towards the late-19th century to make way for the expansion of the city. But since, those parts have been reconstructed.
Once in its old quarter that is known as Barri Vell, I came upon a garden that bizarrely read Jardins de John Lennon. One of the mayors of the town was a fan of the musician. It led me to a tower up narrow, winding stairs and thereon it was a walk along the walls for a sweeping view over Girona’s old roofs, spires and the magnificent Pyrenees in the backdrop. The other end of the wall dipped into the part of town which is home to not-so-charming modernist rows of apartment.
In Call, the Jewish quarter of Girona, that is home to abandoned medieval Jewish houses built into the walls, you find yourself in another time and place. Narrow-as-it-gets cobbled alleys, dark corners, stairs, ancient houses, museums and bookshops with old Jews sitting behind the tills make it rather an atmospheric experience. Just as in other European cities, the Jews were expelled from Girona in 1492 by the Catholic Kings.
It was disturbing and sad that while some families sold their properties to Christians before leaving Girona, others blocked off their houses in the hope that they would return some day. For about 500 years they have remained unoccupied. Encroachment over the years meant that they were buried away till in the 19th century they were re-discovered during the construction of a railway line in town.
Hope. Such an essential life tool but what when hope does not go anywhere?