Prague’s Jewish Quarter
Take a step through history and discover another beautiful area of Prague
The Jewish Quarter in Prague, also known as Josefstadt (Joseph’s City) after the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II who emancipated the Jews with the Toleration Edict 1781 has had a turbulent history throughout the centuries. Forced to live in this cramped quarter of the city it was said that 18,000 people once called the area home. It is hard to grasp just how cramped these conditions would have been as the quarter was remodeled in the 20th century to adapt to the rest of the city’s Parisian style. Today, the Jewish Quarter is a peaceful area, popular with tourists and locals alike who all flock to the area to see the array of beautiful buildings and the rich heritage the area has to offer.
Maiselova synagoga/The Maisel Synagogue
The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in the Old Jewish Quarter in 1592, however after a fire it was built in its now neo-gothic style between 1893-1905 during remodeling of the entire quarter. The synagogue is home to a series of displays of Jewish possessions such as silver, textiles and books now. These possessions made their way to Prague during the Second World War when the Nazis stole from Jewish communities across Europe in an attempt to create a museum to an “soon to be, extinct race”. Alongside these displays you can follow the chronology of the Jewish population of the Czech Republic from the 10th century right through to the modern day showing you how Jewish culture has survived over the years. The interior of the synagogue is very modern and aesthetically a great place to visit. There are several television screens and projections with photos from across the Jewish quarter comparing its modern day appearance to the original state of the quarter.
Pinkasova synagoga/The Pinkas Synagogue
The Pinkas Synagogue was built in 1535 and was restored to its original condition between 1950-54. Between 1955-60 the synagogue was transformed into a memorial for the 80,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who perished during the Shoah. The memorial consists of the names of those who perished painted on the walls. It is a chilling sight walking from wall to wall, room to room trying to take in the tens of thousands of names. During the soviet occupation, the museum was closed for 20 years but was finally reconstructed and reopened in 1995 in the years after Communism fall. There is also a permanent exhibition depicting the work of children who were sent to Terezin Ghetto. The exhibition includes drawings from all of the children and many of their possessions such as toys and badges. The drawings were created by the children between 1942-1944 and show day to day life in the Ghetto from a child’s perspective. Many of these children were later sent by rail to Auschwitz-Birkenau and perished in the gas chambers. These pictures represent the innocence of their youth and how a child’s imagination interpreted the horrendous situation they found themselves in. it is a fitting exhibition to a period of time which should not be forgotten.
Stary zidovsky hrbitov/The Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery is a sea of headstones reaching to the all sides of the wall that surrounds it. It is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and was used between the 15th and 18th century to bury many of the Jewish communities important members. As the space is limited, there are several layers of burials in the cemetery which explains why the ground is uneven and often in places very hilly. The reason there are so many headstones is because of these layers, many of the headstones are for people buried several layers below. Rather than burying the headstones they have been brought to the surface to be kept on display. Taking a walk through the cemetery you realize its enormity, this is surprising for such a small space and also adds to the wonder of the area making it one of Prague’s more popular destinations when discovering the city.
Klausova synagoga/The Klausen Synagogue
The Klausen Synagogue was Prague’s second main synagogue and was home to many prominent Rabbis throughout the years. Due to a fire in the Ghetto, the Klausen Synagogue was built in 1694 over the top of buildings which succumbed to the fire. Within the synagogue now there is a permanent exhibition depicting life and Judaism. This exhibition includes displays on the many Jewish events and celebrations on the ground floor. The first floor of the exhibition then goes on to explain the lifecycle within Judaism, from birth through to death explaining the important milestones on the way. The displays are well put together and the information they provide give you a good insight into Jewish life. The building itself is very beautiful with its high ceilings and even some of the original stonework from the previous buildings revealed under the existing floor.
Obradni sin/The Ceremonial Hall
The Ceremonial Hall in Prague’s Jewish quarter is located at the exit gate to the cemetery. The hall was built between 1906-08 and was the used as a mortuary by Prague’s Burial Society. The first floor of hall was used for ritual washing of the bodies before burial and the second floor was the society’s club room. This hall was used for these functions up until the end of World War One. Today there is an exhibition split between the two floors of the hall which includes more items from Jewish customs and traditions. There are several famous paintings of the ritual of burying a member of the community from the 1770’s and again gives great insight to like in the Jewish quarter. With many precious pieces of Jewish history throughout the hall it is a great follow on to the Klausen Synagogue.
Spanelska synagoga/The Spanish Synagogue
The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 on the site of a 12th century building from the era of the old Jewish quarter. The interior of the synagogue is fantastic as soon as you step onto the ground floor. The walls and interior are fashioned in the Moorish style, you can spend a long time looking in any direction in the synagogue and you will not be disappointed with the view. The mix of colorsthroughout the building are really eye catching. Alongside the fantastic sights in the synagogue, there is a continuation of the history of Jewish communities in the Czech Republic too. The focus of this exhibition is on famous writers and figureheads in the Jewish community as well as a further look into how the community was effected during the holocaust. The information in these sections is very thorough and worth taking some time to read. There is also a room with many Jewish artifacts in which have been preserved by the Jewish museum in Prague since the Second Word War. The Spanish synagogue is a fantastic building with a beautiful interior and is my personal favorite building in the entire quarter.
Staronova Synagogue/The Old-New Synagogue
The Old-new synagogue is the oldest building in the Jewish quarter existing as the main synagogue for over 700 years, it was built in the late 13th century. It is a very simple building with little in the way of grand furnishings inside, this simple design has a beauty all of its own and it is a very satisfying building to walk around. It is a very small building and does not take much time to walk around. However you can sit within the chamber and take in the atmosphere the building has to offer while knowing you are sitting in the oldest building in the entire quarter. Legend also has it that the remains of Golem, a clay figure brought to life by Rabbi Loew are located in the attic.
Galarie Roberta Guttmanna/Gallery of Robert Guttmann
The Gallery of Robert Guttmann is an art gallery that houses temporary art exhibitions. It is located around the corner from the Spanish Synagogue and is a small but worthwhile gallery to visit. Currently the exhibition’s focus is the Red Star, a ship which transported many of the Jewish population of Europe across the Atlantic to the United States, often in cramped condition. These Jewish communities had often traveled throughout Europe to reach the port of Antwerp to embark upon the voyage to the United States.
Jewish Museum Website: www.jewishmuseum.cz
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