Jewish legacy

Did you know that the Jewish community in Girona played an extremely important role in the development of the city between the 9th and the 15th centuries? Did you know that we call the Jewish quarter the call, a word that comes from the Latin callis (‘street’)? Did you know that the Jewish baths (micvé) of Besalú are unique in Europe? There are so many things to discover about the wonderful well-preserved Jewish legacy in some of the towns in the Girona area.

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Located within the Força Vella, the Jewish Quarter or Call is one of the city's most emblematic areas. It consists of a labyrinth of narrow streets and patios that have maintained their medieval atmosphere. It is one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in the world and clear evidence of the importance of the Jewish culture in Girona.

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The mikveh (Jewish bath) was unexpectedly discovered in 1964, beginning with the upper section. It is the first building of this type to be found in Spain and the third in Europe. It is an underground room in the Romanesque style, built from hewn stone. It has a loophole window in the east wall, a barrel vault and a ritual cleansing pool that was filled naturally with water from a spring that is no longer there. Its function was the purification of the soul through the total immersion of the body. Jewish women would cleanse themselves before marriage, after childbirth and once a month after menstruation. Devout men would cleanse themselves every Friday before sunset, that is, before the start of the Sabbath. This building is situated where the ancient Jews' square was located and on the site of the old synagogue, for which there is documentary evidence dating back to 1264. Today part of the prayer room can be observed, along with the patio of the synagogue, where the Jews debated most of the issues that affected the community. Some 20 Jewish families lived in Besalú in mediaeval times until 1436 when they left the town once and for all.

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The county town of Besalú constitutes a unique Jewish heritage site in Catalonia, with a 12th century mikveh (Jewish bath) and the remains of a 13th century synagogue. In 1966 Besalú was declared a national historic-artistic site. Since then, many finds have been made and much work has been done towards recovering this heritage. With its twisting mediaeval streets adapted to the city's orography, arches, steps, stone houses, the superb Romanesque bridge leading to the town centre over the waters of the Fluvià... Besalú still retains the charm of mediaeval times.

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The call (Jewish quarter) of Castelló d'Empúries was the most important in the diocese after that of Girona. Its history is known thanks to the wealth of documentation that has been preserved, enabling the identification and location of both synagogues, the cemeteries and the area covered by the call, along with the functioning, composition and organisation of the community and the appointments of secretaries.

The original call of Castelló d´Empúries was established in the first half of the 13th century in the south-east of the town, around the district of Puig de l'Eramala, where the first synagogue was built. Today it retains the name carrer dels Jueus (street of the Jews). There is scarcely any documentation on this synagogue, although data appears from the time of its transfer of ownership at the end of the 13th century and its recovery in the mid-15th century. The building fell into disuse due to the growth in population, making it necessary to build a new synagogue closer to the town centre, in the Puig Mercadal district. Today, two of the most well-known manor houses in Castelló d´Empúries form part of the city block where the first synagogue was situated. Can Sanllehí and Can Cassanyes are situated to the north and west of the synagogue. They may have been built on the site of the homes of two of the richest and most important Jews in the town: Bernat Bussiges, a merchant and Cresques Bonafos Susau. The two buildings underwent significant alterations in the 18th century. The synagogue has also been recently refurbished and little remains of the original building.

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