(By Carol Moran/Barcelona Metropolitan) Gateway to the Costa Brava and provincial capital, the city of Girona is situated at the confluence of four rivers and has served as a crossroads for many civilisations.
The Iberians populated the area for several centuries, before the Romans built the fort of Gerunda along the Via Augusta from Rome in 79BC, followed by the Visigoths, Moors and Charlemagne.
Numerous sieges, captures and centuries later, this ancient settlement is a thriving city of just under 100,000 citizens, where an extraordinary history and perfectly preserved old town sit alongside beautiful architecture, elegant boutiques, and a lively culinary scene. And, whilst tourists tend to bypass this historical gem en route to its more famous neighbours, there is no better time to visit than during the annual international flower festival.
From May 10th-18th, the Temps de Flors festival flourishes in the streets of Girona, transforming the city into a platform for creativity, where the flowers take centre stage. 142 imaginative floral installations, from the ornate to the abstract, adorn every corner of the old town, all with the objective of highlighting the rich historical and architectural heritage of this vibrant Catalan city.
The 59th edition of this colourful celebration will see 50 monuments, 85 patios, and seven gardens bursting into bloom decked out by crafty green fingers hoping to impress the judges, including private historic properties that open their doors exclusively for the event—a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of the city’s hidden treasures.
The celebrations spring into action at 11am on May 10th with the official opening which takes place on the steps of the cathedral—a good starting point for your tour.
To wander through the labyrinthine medieval streets of the delightful Barri Vell (old town) is to travel through centuries of history and cultural heritage. Encompassing the most extensive and best-preserved Jewish quarter in Europe, this tightly knit urban fabric rises from the bustling Rambla Llibertat, winding its way up towards the towering cathedral.
Constructed between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Cathedral of Santa Maria is a mishmash of the Romanesque, Baroque and Catalan Gothic styles and contains the widest Gothic nave (22m) in the world. During the festival, a brightly coloured, flower-filled carpet cascades down the 86 steps that lead to the imposing structure, and is a must-see.
Within the cathedral, the Romanesque cloister showcases another artistic installation, whilst just steps away, beautiful blossoms transform the 12th-century Arab Baths. As you wander the ancient surroundings, be sure to stop by the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants, a Benedictine abbey and home to the Museu Arqueològic, and the 17th-century convent of Sant Martí Sacosta for more sweet-scented exhibits, followed by a stroll along the Passeig de la Muralla (the old city walls) for a bird’s-eye view of the efflorescent event.
Aside from the colourful cultivations, there is a full agenda of events and entertainment running throughout the festival, from markets, workshops and music festivals, to photography competitions and guided tours.
Music plays a key role, coinciding with both the third annual edition of the ‘A Cappella’ music festival (May 10th-18th) and ‘European Opera Days’ (May 10th-11th). The former brings together a host of diverse artists performing without instrumental accompaniment, from jazz and pop to barbershop and beatbox, whilst the latter will see open air renditions of opera excerpts performed in Plaça del Vi. Elsewhere, outdoor concerts, local choirs and folk dancing competitions will be filling the flower-scented air with melodies.
And music is not the only kind of festival coinciding with the Temps de Flor. On Saturday May 17th, ‘Museums Night’ will be celebrated across Europe, which means free entrance and late opening (until 1am) in the museums of Girona.
Get a snapshot of Girona through the ages at the engaging Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, or, after walking the streets of the Call, find out more about the community that lived there at the Museu d’Història del Jueus de Girona, proudly demonstrating the city’s Jewish heritage.
If history is not your thing, the Museu del Cinema traces the history of the art form and screens floral-themed films during the festival, or the Museu d’Art houses around 8,500 artworks from across the region, from Romanesque woodcarvings to early-20th-century paintings.