C/ de Pont Vell
T: +34 972 59 1240
Only guides visits
from 11:00 to 18:30 hours
Languages: CAT, ESP, EN y FR
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Besalú, with just over 2000 inhabitants, exudes a magical charm, especially on its first time visitors. Seeing the incredible fortified bridge, crossing its great travertine arches, walking through its narrow streets… is almost like peeking through a windows to the past. It seems like every corner of this county town has a legend to tell; yet had I had to choose one amongst its many wonders, the symbol of this medieval enclave is it’s wonderfully preserved Romanesque Mikveh.
Last time I visited Besalú I had a local guide explain to me every detail about this unique construction. A building, remarkably preserved, whose equal hasn’t been found so far anywhere else in the world.
Besalú’s Mikveh had been discovered by chance in 1964 during excavations performed in the area by Esteve Arboix, a resident of a nearby town. Arboix had run into one of its vaults and, held by curiosity, he quickly discovered the rest of the building, filled with sands which had accumulated during several river floodings over the centuries.
Although the Mikveh’s official discovery dates the year 1964, the town’s older members claimed the ‘cave’ had served them as shelter from bombings during the Spanish Civil War. Following the discovery, an array of French Rabbis examined the site and confirmed that indeed, the finding was an authentic Mikveh from centuries past. In 1966, two years after the finding, the site was declared a national historic and artistic patrimony. The small town of Besalú had discovered a true gem dating back to the 12th century, becoming the town’s crown jewel.
Thirty-six steps lead from an exterior public square into a a monumental underground enclosure that captures the river’s waters. The descent into the Mikveh is a remarkable experience. Step by step, the air becomes cooler and the light fades away transforming into an almost spiritual atmosphere. According to experts, the excellent state of preservation of the Mikveh is due to the quality of the river sand that covered it for centuries. Even small details, like the groove on the third steps into the water, which was used to control the natural water levels throughout the year, is still remarkably intact.
Our guide told me that, during the different seasons, the Mikveh is light in different tones and intensities providing an even more impressive and imposing feature to this gem of Sephardic Jewish history.
A visit to the Mikveh is, without doubt, a must for those of you who, like me, share a melancholy for extraordinary places they’ve never meet, but know exist. This monument is open to the public daily and, best of all, only an hour’s drive from Barcelona, it sits right in the heart of Besalú.
[tab title=”TERMINOLOGY” icon=”entypo-book”]1. The mikvah (מִקְוֶה / מקווה) is a bathing space for the purification custom of Judaism. It is a place that gathers natural waters (river or rain water) in a small pool which is connected to a cycle of natural flowing clean (seldom warm) water. It can be used by both men and women, although according to Sephardic tradition, nowadays only women retain the obligation for the mikvah ritual 7 days after the completion of each menstrual cycle.[/tab]