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A tiny history of a small city

If you stand on the uneven cobbles of the sharply-ascending Carrer Força, you are in fact standing on the Roman Via Augusta. And if you were to start walking north, you'd find yourself setting out on one of the roads that all led to Rome. In fact, it was the Romans who founded the city, in the first century AD, as a fort that they called Gerunda, on the road running from the centre of empire to southern Spain. The Portal de Sobreportes, the gateway at the top end of the street, still has Roman stones visible at the base, huge irregular boulders that lay the foundation for the subsequent early to late medieval masonry work.

After the Romans did what they did for Girona, the city attracted the attentions of Visigoths, Moors and Charlemagne, who each ruled in succession. Turn south and head back down Carrer Força and you're entering another era in Girona's history: El Call, the Jewish Quarter. An important centre of learning for six hundred years, it was effectively a city within a city, independent of Girona and with a mayor who was responsible to the king in exchange for protection. Unfortunately, the protection came to an end and El Call's inhabitants were increasingly the victims of persecution, the community declining until the final expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

Constantly batted back and for between Spain and France after that, the city nonetheless enjoyed a couple of centuries of prosperity until the game of ping-pong finally took its toll by the early nineteenth century, culminating in the sieges and occupation of Girona by Napoleon's troops in 1808 and 1809. It soon bounced back, though, and industrial revolution throughout most of Catalonia went hand-in-hand with a cultural renaissance, evident in the architecture and good works of the city, only to be cut short again by the Civil War and the decades of repression and neglect of the Franco era. As with everywhere else in Catalonia, the language was banned, police and functionaries were imported from other parts of Spain to keep control, censorship was brutal and political freedom was not to be tolerated.

With democracy restored, and the street signs put back to their old pre-Franco names, or new ones to mark his going put up in their place, the city once again saw a period of prosperity, becoming the richest province in Spain. With this went renewed confidence, the founding of the university, a cultural rebirth and more serious shopping per head than anywhere else in the country. But only until that bubble burst with the latest crisis, this time financial instead of martial, and some of the serious shops have been seriously closed. With that, it still remains a small and beautiful city that has come through testing times in the past, not least those of some foreign crime writer who insists on seeing foul deeds on every enchanting corner.