The city of Girona; The Romans named it ‘Gerunda’, ‘the surrounded by rivers’, and so it remains. Strolling through its maze of cobbled streets, visitors are usually surprised by the ample nature that embroiders it’s horizon. A walk a top the city’s walls (‘Paseo de la Muralla’) can truly invigorate the senses by the beauty and colors of the city’s northern section, where among ambers, greens and the blue of the sky, stands Montjüic – the ‘Mount of the Jews’.
Montjüic, as its name reveals, has a Jewish history, having served for centuries as the community’s cemetery outside the city walls, on a sloped riverbed, its graves face east, towards Jerusalem. The cemetery’s land was owned by the Jewish Call, which gave it away in 1492 on occasion of the expulsion to the noble Joan Sarriera, who would leave it a few years later. Abandoned and forgotten, the cemetery suffered looting and sacrilege; its tombstones reused by nearby inhabitants as building blocks for to their houses.
In the late 1800’s, workers constructing the railway line connecting Girona with France, would come across a cluster of stones bearing strange inscriptions; memories sculptured in stone, revealing the Hebrew past of the city. Today, these ancient relics are preserved at the Museum of Jewish History as the largest collection of Jewish tombstones of the Peninsula, displaying the epigraphs that time could not erase.
As for the cemetery grounds, in Montjüic, they too bear a riveting story. Within the large area occupied by the cemetery, hides a smaller area known locally as the Bou d’Or (the Golden Ox). Legends passed down from Christian witnesses of the time, tell of the Jews’ final departure from Girona. As they left the city, they headed towards Montjüic. Unable to carry their jewelry and treasures, they forged them into a giant golden ox to be buried with the hope of one day returning to Girona, to a treasure which would await its restitution.
It is said that many villagers tried to find the great treasure unsuccessfully, as every attempt would bestir the terrorizing roar of a great ox, diverting the most audacious adventurers from continuing their quest. One night, three young men under the ‘influences of courage’ given by too much wine, dared to seek the golden ox. They picked their shovels and sang their way to Montjüic.
As they approached the cemetery, a mysterious man in black garments appeared: “Are you looking for something? I know this place very well…” Foolishly, the sneering young men revealed their intentions and to their surprise, were led to a secluded location where a staircase plunged into the dark depths of the earth. The young men were led down the staircase until one of them, seized by fear, cried in anguish: “Where in G-d’s name is he taking us!?” According to legend, the pronunciation of God’s sacred name infuriated the mysterious man, who it is believed was none other than the devil himself; his anger ruptured in an explosion which catapulted the young men through the air in all directions.
One of the men was found hanging across the bridge railing of Sarria gate; a second, embracing the bell tower of the Cathedral, while the third smashed straight through the tower of San Feliu. It is because of the latter that today we observe the decapitated tower.