Jewish Museum in Prague
Occupying several synagogues and other historical buildings in the former ghetto, the Židovské muzeum is one of Prague's most popular attractions
The Jewish Museum in Prague (Židovské muzeum v Praze) occupies several of the quarter's buildings, many of them former synagogues, and these now house exhibitions on Jewish life and culture.
The visit starts in the Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagoga), which was built between 1590 and 1592 to a design by Josef Wahl i Juda Goldsmied and paid for by Mordechai Maisel.
The synagogue burnt down in 1689 and was rebuilt in the Baroque style, then rebuilt again between 1893 and 1905.
Currently, the Maisel Synagogue houses the first section of the exhibition, entitled History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia From the Establishment of Jewish Settlement Up to the Period of Emancipation.
Here, you can learn about the history of the Jewish people from the time they first arrived in the Czech lands through to the Renaissance, when the synagogue was built.
This section of the exhibition also features books and objects from this time.
The next stop is the Spanish Synagogue (Španělská synagoga), which was built in 1868 according to Vojtěch Ignátz Ullmann's design.
The facade is based on the Leopoldstädter Tempel, a synagogue in Vienna, Austria that was destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938.
The Spanish Synagogue is notable for its elaborate Islamic-style interior, in which every surface is covered with elaborate multicolored and gilded patterns, some painted, some carved and some molded.
The Spanish Synagogue contains the second section of the exhibition begun in the Maisel Synagogue and covers emancipation, the Austro-Hungarian empire, Czechoslovakia's First Republic, the Nazi protectorate and the postwar years.
The third section of the exhibition is in the Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagoga).
After World War II, the synagogue, which was built by the Horowitz family, was turned into a memorial to the Bohemian and Moravian Jews killed by the Nazis.
The names of the victims, their personal information and the names of the communities they belonged to are inscribed on Pinkas Synagogue's walls.
Upstairs, there's an exhibition of drawings created by children who were imprisoned in the Terezín concentration camp.
Next to the Pinkas Synagogue stands the Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov).
In use until 1787, the cemetery dates back to the early 15th century, when the Jews were effectively imprisoned within the walls of their ghetto. (The oldest preserved tombstone, belonging to Avigdor Kara, is from 1439.)
Because of limited space, there are several layers of tombs and the exact number of graves is unknown.
It's been estimated, however, that there are around 12,000 tombstones currently visible and maybe as many as 100,000 people buried here in total.
Important personalities buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery include Yehuda ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal Rabbi Löw and supposedly the creator of the Golem, who died in 1609; community leader Mordechai Maisel (died 1601), astronomer David Gans (died 1613) and Jewish scholar Rabbi David Oppenheim (died 1736).
The next stage is the Klausen Synagogue (Klausová synagoga).
This was the ghetto's largest synagogue and also served as Prague's burial society (chevra kadisha).
This section of the museum contains the exhibition Jewish Customs and Traditions, which deals with birth, circumcision, bar mitzvahs, weddings, divorces and everyday Jewish family life.
Finally, your visit to the Jewish Museum ends in the Ceremonial Hall (Obřadní síň).
This was built between 1911 and 1912, under the direction of architect J. Gerstl, for the Jewish burial society and is in the neo-Romanesque style.
Originally used as a ceremonial hall and mortuary, it now houses an exhibition devoted to illness and medicine in the ghetto, Jewish cemeteries in Bohemia and Moravia and the Prague burial society's activities.
A visit to the Jewish Museum is a good way to get to know more about a community that has a special place in Prague history -- but the history of the Jewish quarter and its remarkable buildings might be more valuable than the content of the exhibitions themselves.
Jewish Museum in Prague
(Židovské muzeum v Praze)
U staré školy 1, Prague 1
Phone: (+420) 221 711 511
Metro: Staroměstská (line A)
Tram: Právnická fakulta
Adults: 300 CZK
Students/Children: 200 CZK
The museum is also closed on Jewish holidays.
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