Banyoles is always worth a visit. The reason for this is not only the lake, but also because of the wonderful old town from the 14th century and the surroundings.
The Catalan city of Banyoles is the capital of the district of Pla de l’Estany in the province of Girona. From here you can reach Girona or the beaches of the Costa Brava in just 25 minutes. Up to the mountains you only need 50 minutes. East of Banyoles is the Nature Park Volcanic Zone of Garrotxa (Parc Natural de la Zona volcanica de la Garrotxa).
Banyoles is the ideal location for holidaymakers who are looking for diversity.
In 711, the Moors conquered the area from the Visigoths and many of the residents were forced to flee. 25 years later the country was reconquered and divided into several counties under the rule of the King of the Franks. The counties became increasingly more powerful and independent, especially Barcelona.
In 812, the King of the Franks, Louis the Pious, gave the area, where today’s city of Banyoles was founded, to the Benedictines under Abbot Bonitus (Bonito) and granted immunity.
In 822, after the experience with the Moors, the Sant Esteve Monastery was built as a fort. The residents who have fled came back and settled around the monastery. They had to pay taxes and in return they received protection from the nobles and spiritual support by the clergy.
In the 9th century they built a church, which was destroyed by an earthquake. Over the centuries, Banyoles was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, and so today we find a mixture of styles, the products of the different construction periods.
Already the 9th century, the Benedictine monks of the cloister started with the construction of channels to the water supply. Today, the network of channels has a total length of 33 kilometers. A large part has been laid underground in the 20th century.
Banyoles experiences a new boom with the 1992 Olympics. According to a study of the University of Oviedo from 2011, Banyoles is the best city to live in Catalonia.
In overall Spain, Banyoles ranks place seven. In this study, aspects such as cost of living, social services, housing, transport, environment, employment, health, culture, leisure, education and security were taken into account.
A walk through the old town
We start our tour with our Tour Guides Lidia Anglada, Marta José Maria and Vikki Benito at the Placa Major in the center of the town. When we arrive it is city market and we couldn’t see much of the beautiful square. However, this should change later.
But we encounter a film crew of local TV station, which is just on the search for a pretty tourist, in order to film her when taking a photo.
Our blogger friend Jane proved to be a suitable candidate. We film some sales booths and capture the atmosphere of the market.
Via the Carrer Major, which seems to be a pedestrian zone, we arrive at the Placa de la Font.
The former Gothic palace, Pia Almoina once housed a charitable institution, which distributed bread and clothing to poor families in town. The building itself was created from two Romanesque houses from the 13th century.
Today it houses the Regional Archaeological Museum (Museu Comarcal Arqueològic ‘de Banyoles) where many artefacts of significant local archaeological sites, such as the Paleolithic caves of Serinya, or the Neolithic village of La Draga, are exhibited.
Highlight is a Neanderthal Banyoles jawbone, dating back some 45,000 years. You can also see a collection of Catalan pottery from 13th to 19th century.
Through picturesque lanes we go to the Sant Esteve Monastery which we will visit later.
On the square in front of it, we see a monolith, with compartments that contain stones of the most famous mountains in Catalonia. You can also find a remnant of the old irrigation canals.
The Carrer Nou was the street of craftsmen. The ground floor was used for the workshops and shops.
One floor up was the living area and even a floor higher, inventories were stored. The old guild signs, such as scissors, are still to be seen over the entrances of the houses. It seems that it was once a tailor’s workshop.
The road ends at the Church Santa Maria dels Turers, one of the first examples of Catalan Gothic. It was built in 1333.
The current facade is from the 16th century. Originally, it was a basilica with a central aisle of eleven meters width and a heptagonal apse resting on large buttresses.
Between the 17th and 18th century the two aisles were added. The stained glass windows date from the mid-20th century.
In the past, the houses from ashlars with pretty balconies in the Carrer Paraireria were in the possession of a weaver guild. The street is the shortest street of Banyoles.
We reach the archaeological museum again and take a look at the remarkable inner courtyard.
After exploring the remains of the medieval city walls, Marta shows us the old dyeing factory – Llotja del Tint.
It is one of the few medieval Catalan factories that still retains its original structure. The Main Canal (Rec Majorl) once passed by the basement, providing the water for the dyeing process. The upper floor was used as a warehouse and market.
Back on Placa Major, we find the merchants removing their stalls.
At the am Placa Major is the Cal Moliner, a building from the 13th century. During renovations, an old mill was unveiled.
Today, it is the building of the tourist office. In the courtyard you still can see the old water wheel which used to drive a flour mill.
Afterwards we have lunch in the Michelin star restaurant Ca l’Arpa, which we dedicate an own video and blog post.
Coming back to the Placa Major, we are quite surprised. The character of the square has completely changed. Empty and freshly swept, we can appreciate the architecture of the square. It is adorned with plane trees and surrounded by 40 large arcades. The historical area of the Placa Major is protected by the Generalitat de Catalunya.
Now it is time to visit the Sant Esteve Monastery, which we dedicate a separate blog post with video.
Once again we return to the Placa Major and again its character has changed. Now it is a meeting place for young people and a playground for children. We have time to drink a coffee under the arcades.
Packed with many new impressions, especially with regard to medieval life, we say goodbye to Banyoles and go to our bus that will drive us to Girona.
Please read on > Ca L’Arpa – Michelin star restaurant and 4 star hotel
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