Prague’s Jewish Quarter
The Jewish community of Prague has been around for well over a thousand years. The Jewish ghetto, located between the Old Town Square & the Vltava river, was established in the 12th century, and provided Jews with a relatively safe place to live — from the second half of the 13th century even under the legal protection of the King, which proved insufficient against pogroms, such as the one in 1389, when several hundred residents were massacred. In the late 16th century the ghetto enjoyed its golden era, when the town hall & several synagogues were built. In 1850, the quarter was renamed Josefov, after Emperor Joseph II, who had allowed the Jews to settle outside the ghetto two years earlier. Because its wealthier residents moved elsewhere, houses in Josefov fell into disrepair & the area became an overpopulated refuge for the poor. Most of the quarter was demolished between 1893 & 1913 as part of a redevelopment; what was left were only six synagogues, the town hall, the cemetery & the burial society’s ceremonial hall.
At the core of the Jewish Quarter stands the 13th-century Gothic Old-New Synagogue, the oldest extant synagogue in Europe, and the Jewish Town Hall next door, known for its Hebrew clock that moves anticlockwise. Other interesting sites in Josefov, all part of the Jewish Museum, are the Maisel Synagogue & the Spanish Synagogue, and the Klausen Synagogue & Ceremonial Hall, which feature exhibitions about the history of the Jews in Bohemia, and about Jewish customs & traditions. Inside the Pinkas Synagogue you will find the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from the Czech lands, which includes an exhibition of children’s drawings from the Theresienstadt ghetto. The entrance to the synagogue is also the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, the oldest surviving Jewish burial grounds in the world, with some 12,000 tombstones, many of which mark graves with multiple bodies stacked up to ten deep. The Old-New Synagogue & the museum are closed on the Sabbath & on Jewish holidays.jewishmuseum.cz