The Jewish Quarter of Prague (Josefov) is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Prague and probably the most visited Jewish Quarter in the world.
Jews are believed to have settled in Prague as early as the 10th century and the history of the Jewish Quarter dates back to the 12th century. Since that time the quarter has been the Jewish life center in Prague. In the 16th century the Jews were forcefully settled in Ghetto which existed until 1848. In 1850 the quarter became an ordinary district of Prague and was renamed Josefov after Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor.
At the turn of 20th century most of the quarter was demolished and only several synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall were left. After all those changes only a few poor families and a few representatives of orthodox communities stayed living there.
Here are some attractions of the Jewish Quarter:
Staronová synagoga (the Old New Synagogue) is the most popular building of the Jewish Quarter and the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Construction of the synagogue dates back to 1210. The synagogue was originally called the New Synagogue and later, when newer synagogues were built, it became known as Staronová synagoga (the Old-New Synagogue).
The Synagogue is mainly associated with Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel). It is sometimes called the Synagogue of Maharal. Maharal was a big Jewish sage and mystic who lived in 16th century. He is hardly well-known for his works outside the world of the Jewish religion but everybody knows about the legend of the Golem of Prague created by him.
According to legend Maharal created an animated being fashioned from clay in order to defend the Prague ghetto. The creature really lived and defended the Jews but once he suddenly became furious. After that Maharal managed to pull the shem from his mouth and immobilize him. The Golem’s body was stored in the attic of the Old New Synagogue where entry is strictly prohibited.
Of course, the legend cannot be true but tourists like it and that is one of the reasons why the Jewish Quarter and the Staronová synagoga in particular are so popular. Even the exterior of the synagogue looks rather mystical.
The interior of the synagogue is noted for its ancient design with decorated altar and Torah ark. Despite the prohibition I managed to take one photo.
Old Jewish Cemetery
As it was forbidden to bury outside the ghetto the Jews had to place new graves on the existing ones. There are places with 12 layers of graves. The whole atmosphere of the Jewish cemetery with its warped gravestones is awash with mysticism and attracts a lot of tourists. As for us we didn’t enter the cemetery.
Jewish Town Hall
The Jewish Town Hall is located between the Jewish Cemetery and the Staronová synagoga. The building dates back to 16th century and served as the main meeting house of the local Jewish community. It is best known for its clock that has Hebrew numerals and runs counterclockwise.
Klaus Synagogue (Klausova synagoga) is a 16th century baroque synagogue the construction of which was completed in 1694. Today it is home to Children’s drawing gallery from Terezin concentration camp.
The Spanish Synagogue is located a little bit far from all other synagogues of the Jewish Quarter. It dates back to 1868 and is considered to be one of the Europe’s and the world’s most beautiful synagogues. Right near the building of the Spanish Synagogue you can see the monument to Franz Kafka, one of the best known Jews of Prague.
The monument by Jaroslav Rona was installed here in 2003. I do not know whether it was a purposely-chosen location but the borderline between Jewish and Christian quarters goes right between Kafka’s legs. Numerous souvenir shops and kosher restaurants are functioning in the Jewish Quarter today.
The entry fee for all the Jewish monuments is 480 CZK. The entry fee for all the synagogues that are parts of the Jewish Museum is 300 CZK and for the Staronová synagoga the fee is 200 CZK. The entry fee for only one synagogue, e.g. Spanish Synagogue which I highly recommend visiting is 70 CZK. The synagogues are closed during Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
The third day of our trip in Czech Republic we left Prague and made our way toward Český Krumlov.