It is located in the Pre-Pyrenees of Girona and strategically placed on a small hill at whose feet two rivers converge. It is a beautiful medieval town famous for its market and for the fair that has been held for more than a millennium.

It is surrounded by several beautiful towns such as Banyoles, Figueres or Olot, which can be good for a day trip. This town is also adjacent to the volcanic area of La Garrotxa. We are talking about an ideal space for outdoor excursions and other forms of active tourism.

History of Besalú

Romans and Muslims in Besalú

Little is known of its remote past, but the site must have been inhabited at least since the 6th century BC. It is considered to have been occupied by the Romans, as numerous roads converge at this almost border point. The remains of the Roman Villa of Can Ring date from the 1st century BC.

The Muslim occupation of Besalú was short, as they occupied the area around 715 and the Franks took it after the Christian population of Girona handed it over to them in 785. At that time the place depended for its defence on the Count of Girona. Its name was Bisuldunum in reference to the Fluvià and Capellades rivers, among which it is located. Since the year 800, Jews started settling in the town.

Several Counts

In the 9th century, Wifredo el Velloso, Count of Barcelona, also held the title of the County of Besalú. Then he appointed his brother Radulf as Count of Besalú for life. In the year 920, Count Miró “The Younger” incorporates the County of Besalú into the County of La Cerdaña. The following decades saw fights between nobles for control of the county, remaining subject to the County of La Cerdaña. In 969 a mint was installed and a coin was minted for the county.

In 994 the knight Bernat Tallaferro inherited the county of Besalú from his father. During the year 1016 Count Bernat travelled to Rome and Pope Benedict VIII granted Besalú the privilege of being a bishop’s see. Thus, it included the monasteries of Ripoll, Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Camprodon among others. Also the authorization to build a cathedral.

In 1027 a market began to be held which has continued until the present day.

Remains of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria

Different Wars and Change Hands

In the year 1111 Count Bernat III of Besalú died without offspring. According to a previous pact, Barcelona absorbs the county. In 1351 King Peter IV of Aragon (and Count of Barcelona) created the title of Prince of Girona for his heir. In this way, he incorporates the county of Besalú into the principality. On the other hand, the earthquake of 1428 caused serious damage to the town.

In 1676, Marshal Schonberg of the French army made an incursion into the Empordà, taking Besalú. During the War of Succession, Besalú joined the rebellion against King Philip V. It was conquered in 1711. As a result of the defeat, in 1716 the Nueva Planta Decrees were applied, suppressing all the veguerias (administrative entities) and making Besalú dependent on the Corregidor of Girona.

Within the framework of the War of Independence, in 1809 the French took Besalú, with periodic battles taking place in its surroundings until 1811. During the Carlist wars, Besalú was a town with a strong Carlist presence, being occupied by them on several occasions. At present, the town is an important tourist and cultural centre.

What to see in Besalú

Monastery of Sant Pere

The town still shows the trace of its medieval past through a short but very diversified list of monuments to see in Besalú. First, among them stands out the Monastery of Sant Pere, where we start the visit. This community was established in 977 and consecrated in 1003. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the religious centre reached its peak.

From the Benedictine complex only the temple has remained, where the relics of the town’s patron saints are kept. The patrons are San Primo and San Feliciano. This led to the inclusion of an retroquire, typical of pilgrimage temples, in its architectural project. As a result of the anticlerical violence of 1835 the community abandoned the temple, falling into ruin. The presbytery and the retroquire that surrounds it with beautiful columns is the most interesting part of this Romanesque church with three naves that you can see in Besalú.

Linked to the monastery, and behind it, is the old Hospital de Sant Julià (12th century). It was dedicated to shelter the pilgrims and the poor of solemnity. The hospital also had an outstanding medieval church. It stands out for its monumental Romanesque façade.

Monastery of Sant Pere

Collegiate Church of Santa María

The Collegiate Church of Santa María has its origin in a simple little chapel that was in the enclosure of the disappeared fortress during the High Middle Ages. Between 1017 and 1020, it was the provisional seat of the ephemeral diocese of Besalú, changing the title of Sant Genís and Sant Miquel to Santa María. Since the 12th century, with the arrival of a community of Augustinians, major works were undertaken.

However, in the 16th century it lost the category of cathedral and became a collegiate church. After its ruin in the 18th century, only the main chapel and part of the transverse nave remain in place. Many of its elements are now in the National Art Museum of Catalonia.

Different interesting religious buildings in Besalú

The church of Sant Vicenç (13th century, interesting to see in Besalú) stands on top of another from the 10th century and still displays its Romanesque origins. Its front includes an imposing rose window and a Gothic window. Its body of bells from the 18th century also stands out.

Besalú was also an important enclave for the Hebrews in Catalonia. For example, we can see this by walking through the streets of its Jewish quarter, such as the current Llibertat. The archaeological remains of its Micvé (12th century) are an underground building of ritual baths to purify the body. The courtyard and part of the prayer room remain from the adjacent 13th century synagogue. There are also remains of the old portal.


Church of San Vicenç

Important residences and the famous Old Bridge

A must see in Besalú is the Casa Cornellá (12th century). It is an extraordinary private residence that surprises with its magnificent courtyard and the imposing gallery that runs along the entire upper part.

The Cúria Real is a noble building to see in Besalú. It was built between the 13th and 14th centuries and was the residence of Bernat Cavaller. The latter acted as procurator of the monarch in the place. This building maintains intact the Gothic atmosphere of its spectacular pointed arches and the original roofs with characteristic coffered ceilings.

The most emblematic image to see in Besalú is Puente Viejo (Old Bridge) (11th and 14th centuries). The infrastructure covers a distance of more than one hundred meters over the course of the Fluvià River with elegant Gothic arches. In the central section there is a tower where the traveller was charged for the so-called pontazgo, as a toll to cross it. It was dynamited in 1939, so it must have been rebuilt.

Puente Viejo (Old Bridge)

Practical Data


42º 12’ 9”N, 2º 42’ 0” E


Girona 32 km, Barcelona 134 km, Madrid 674 km.


It is recommended to leave the vehicle around the access roads to the town centre.


141 m


2 427 (2012)

Carnival. Holy Week (Procession of the Sorrows). Festivals of San Primo and San Feliciano (around 25 September).

Besalú Jewish City (March). Iron Fair (March). Herbesalú (June). Besalú Music Festival (August and September). Medieval Fair of Besalú (first weekend of September). Also Regatta del Fluvià (Sunday of the Festes Majors, end of September) Ratafia Fair (first weekend in December).

Iron, leather, wood.

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