The Sephardic Route GeronaA stronghold on the way from Tarraco to Gaul, founded by the Roman general Pompey Magnus in the 1st century AD, Gerona in the Middle Ages was already considered the “Key to the Kingdom” and, metaphorically, the gateway to Sephardic for Hispanic Jews. With its treasure trove of wisdom over the centuries, today Gerona has an enviable combination of respect for the past and vision of the future, making it one of the cities with the best quality of life in Spain.
In the year 890, the arrival in the city of Gerona the first contingent of 25 Jewish families was recorded. They came from a small town in the neighbouring County of Besalú. They settled in the upper part of Gerona and devoted themselves to farming fruit and vegetables and vineyards, under the protection of the Counts themselves. They gradually took part in the financial life of Gerona and, by the 12th century, Jews were fully integrated into the city’s life, working in various sectors of trade and finance. Throughout the 13th century and during the first half of the 16th century, the Jewish community reached its period of greatest splendour in Gerona, comprising 7% of the city’s population with the arrival of new families from France, and enjoying the full confidence of the reigning monarchs. The Jew Astrug Ravaia was named bayle (governor) of Gerona by Jaime I, and his son Mossé Ravaia was made General Bayle of Catalonia.
Besides the establishments essential to any Jewish quarter, such as the butcher’s, the fishmonger’s, and the bakery, the Gerona call also contained a hospital, an orphanage and a charity institution. It also had at least three synagogues. The first stood between the Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace, and was abandoned when the community moved to a new location. The second, dating from the 13th century, is at 23, Calle de la Força, opposite today’s steps up to the Virgin of La Pera. The third stood in the Calle de Sant Llorenç, and had baths, a school for women, and a hospital. Today, it is the Bonastruc ça Porta Centre, and houses the Catalonian Museum on the History of the Jews and the Nahmánides Institute of Studies, named in honour of Mossé ben Nahman (Bonastruc ça Porta, in Catalan), who was a philosopher, exegete, poet, physician, leading Cabbalist and one of the great figures of Catalonian Medieval history. The museum contains, along with many other pieces, a splendid collection of tombstones from the nearby Hebrew cemetery of Montjuïc, dating from between the 12th and 15th centuries. The Main Historical Archives hold a valuable series of fragmented documents with Hebrew writing on them that were found in the sleeve of some 14th and 15th-century notary’s books.
The Municipal Archives contain a treasure: a collection of ninety, 12th-14th-century Hebrew documents, which are a valuable testimony of the cultural life of the Jewish community in Gerona.
The increase in population as from the 12th century meant that the area inhabited by the Jewish community was moved to a lower part of the city, although many Jews continued to own houses in different parts of the city. Then came the municipal order of 1448, which definitively turned the Jewish quarter into a ghetto. Before it was declared a “forbidden area” to Jews, at the end of the 14th century, the Calle de la Força - the old Via Augusta that ran through the city from north to south - had been the backbone of the aljama. Later, the centre of the Jewry moved to Call de Sant Llorenç, where a new synagoguye was built, and where the Casa Colls stands - a building that used to be the home of Lleó Avinay, the last leader of Gerona's Jewish quarter.