Heading south on the A9 out of Albi, France, you pick up the AP-7 crossing into Spain. A mere 3.5 hours in the beautiful eastern countryside of the aforementioned nations separates our Small Worlds this month. The drive stops in Girona, Spain, a small town that sits less than an hour from the Mediterranean Sea. One of the four provinces of Catalonia, Girona rests at the convergence of four rivers: the Ter, Onyar, Galligants and Gϋell. With just shy of 100,000 people, Girona is the size of many American Midwestern college towns, and quite fittingly has its own university, the Universitat de Girona. While it doesn’t have the history of many of the schools ‘back home’ as it was only started in 1991, the university has grown steadily since its inception. The university’s major research functions are in water management and sustainable tourism.
Believed to be initially inhabited by the Iberians around the 6th or 7th Century, Girona changed hands according to the current ruling party ‘flavor of the month’ for decades before it was finally settled by Charles the Great (aka Charles I or Charlemagne) as one of the 14 original countships of Catalonia. Rich in history, it is also home to significant architectural treasures, a theme that we prize in our Small World.
One of the most interesting specimens of architectural wonder is the Cathedral of St. Mary of Girona. Construction was first started in the 11th Century in a Romanesque style that focused on thick walls, round arches and decorative arcading. The style is well-known for its insistence on symmetry. The Cathedral was finished in the following century in Gothic manner which includes flying buttresses for reinforcement, ribbed vaults for overhead décor and of course its emphasis on pointed arches. The bell tower is the only portion of the edifice that shows its original Romanesque styling. And while the Cathedral was built in the Middle Ages, it has seen recent investment to fix or finish aspects that are crucial to aesthetics and stability. In the 1960s, the Baroque façade was completed as well as the placing of the angel; and the apostles’ door was finished in the 1970s. One of the main attractions for visitors to the Cathedral is the Tapestry of Creation, an 11th Century Romanesque needlework quilt that measures roughly 4-m high and 5-m wide. Its artwork is comprised of three sections: the Genesis story, the cosmic elements and the stories of the Holy Cross. An image of the Christ Pantocrator resides in the middle – one of the earliest images of Christ commonly holding the New Testament in one hand and making a blessing with the other.
Another architectural wonder in Girona is the Collegiate Church of Saint Feliu. Collegiate Churches are traditionally where daily worship takes place. They are not commonly headed by a bishop, but more often a dean or provost, and are comprised of those religious folk who are not ordained. This institution is one of the few Spanish churches to have a spire and is dedicated to St. Narcissus, one of the three bishops to govern the See of Jerusalem.
Girona is also religiously important to Judaism. In the 12th Century, it was home to one of the most important Kabbalistic schools, but the city’s early Jewish history ended late in the 15th Century with their expulsion from Catalonia by the Catholic King. Today, historical remnants of Jewish culture can be seen in the Catalan Jewish Museum, as well as architectural artifacts such as the Carrer de Sant Llorenc and the Centre Bonastruc ça Porta. The city is now known to be welcoming to all religions and cultures, making it a beautiful blend of old world tradition and new world progressiveness.