At one stage in the Middles Ages, there was a Jewish community living in almost every Catalan town and city, as witnessed by the remains of the medieval Jewish quarters in Barcelona and Girona, among other places. Besalú is a charming, picturesque town that always delights visitors. To access the historic town centre, cross the River Fluvià by the impressive fortified stone bridge with its seven uneven arcs, built directly on the riverbed rocks for greater stability. You will be transported in space and time, back into a small medieval universe captured in the streets, squares, and buildings of the old Jewish quarter.
The bridge leads straight into the maze of narrow cobbled streets that used to be one of the most important Jewish quarters in Catalonia. As you stroll around, bear in mind that, from their arrival in the Iberian Peninsula to their expulsion in 1492, the Jewish people experienced some periods of recognition and other periods of persecution. During the former, they were allowed to conserve their religious practices and places of worship without having to convert to Christianity. For practical reasons, the Jews usually lived in the same district, clustered around the synagogue. In Catalonia, the Jewish quarter was called call (from callum meaning “street” in Latin).
As you walk along, try to imagine Jewish life in the medieval period before arriving to a small square called Plaça dels Jueus, quite near the picturesque Carrer Tallaferro. Ask for a guided tour of the mikveh, the only Jewish baths enclosure discovered in the Iberian Peninsula until 2014, when a second one was found in Girona city. Go down the steps into a vaulted underground room built of stone in the Romanesque style. The small pool was filled naturally by spring water, and was used for purifying the soul by total immersion of the body. The discovery of the mikveh bears witness to the Jewish presence in Besalú, adding a unique building to the architectural and cultural heritage of the town, together with the monastery of Sant Pere, the church of Sant Vicenç, the Palace of the Royal Curia, and the hospice of Sant Julià. Other curious places to visit in Besalú are the Sausage Museum and the Museum of Miniatures and Micro-miniatures. This is certainly a unique place in the world.