PRAGUE — Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter(Josefov) is found between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. In the Middle Ages there were two separate Jewish communities in the Old Town. The first was in the Old-New Synagogue area where Jews from the west lived and around the Spanish Synagogue where Jews from the Byzantine Empire lived. They gradually merged to become an enclosed ghetto. For a long time they were persecuted until 1784 when Joseph 11 took away some of the harsher laws and the area known today as the Jewish Quarter was named after him — Josefov. In 1850 this area became part of Prague and in the 1890s the area was razed except for the Town Hall, some of the synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Most historical sights in the Jewish Quarter are controlled by the Jewish Museum. A single admission ticket gains you entry to all the buildings under their control. The Old-New Synagogue requires a separate ticket.
For information about prices and opening times for the sights in the Jewish Quarter visit the following website at: http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/ainfo.htm

The sights found here are:
Rudolfinum
Museum of Decorative Arts
Old Jewish Cemetery
Pinkas Synagogue
Klausen Synagogue
Old-New Synagogue
High Synagogue
Jewish Town Hall
Maisel Synagogue
Church of the Holy Ghost
Spanish Synagogue
Cubist Houses
Church of St Simon and St Jude
Church of St Castullus
St Agnes of Bohemia Convent

Rudolfinum

Rudolfinum
The Rudolfinum is one of the most impressive buildings in Prague with its Neo-Renaissance style of architecture. It was built between 1876 and 1884 from designs by Josef Zitek and Josef Schultz and was named in honour of Crown Prince Rudolf of Hapsburg. It was originally designed as an art gallery and in 1946 it became the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1918 to 1938 and a short period after World War II (1945-1946) it also housed the Czechoslovak Parliament. Inside there are lavish concert halls with the highlight being the Dvořák Hall.
For information about the Rudolfinum visit the website at: http://www.ceskafilharmonie.cz/en/index.php

Museum of Decorative Arts
Housed in a beautiful building the Museum of Decorative Arts (Uměleckoprůmyslové Muzeum) was founded in 1885 to display exquisite examples of European decorative arts. Only a small section of the museum’s collection is on display but there are some wonderful examples of Bohemian glass and ceramics.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.upm.cz/?language=en

Old Jewish Cemetery

Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý Židovský Hřbitov) is a very impressive cemetery that was used from 1439 to 1787 and was the only burial ground Jews were allowed to use during this time. It is the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe and miraculously it was left intact under Hitler’s orders even though so many cemeteries were destroyed by the Nazis as he was planning to build a Jewish museum in Prague after all the Jews in Europe had been exterminated. There are more than 100,000 Jews buried in this very small space and some of the graves are layered 12 deep which does happen in European cemeteries where space is at a premium. In the Old Jewish Cemetery there are around 12,000 tombstones, crowded closely together with almost no grass between them. The last burial was of Moses Beck in 1787.

Traveller's Tip

The most visited grave in the cemetery is that of Rabbi Löw dating from 1609. Visitors put hundreds of pebbles and wishes on his grave as a mark of respect.
Pinkas Synagogue

Pinkas Synagogue
The Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova Synagóga) was founded by Rabbi Pinkas in 1479 and is now dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia. Their names are inscribed on the walls of the main nave and adjoining areas. There is also a collection of paintings and drawings by children held in concentration camps. Two relics kept in the synagogue are a 17th century women’s gallery and a Medieval ritual bath that was discovered in the ghetto.

Klausen Synagogue

Klausen Synagogue
This Baroque synagogue was built on the ruins of a number of small Jewish schools in 1694 and was the largest Prague synagogue and the second most important. The Klausen Synagogue (Klausová Synagóga) now contains an interesting exhibition of Hebrew prints and manuscripts and an exhibition of Jewish traditions and customs. Many of the exhibits relate to famous figures in the city’s Jewish community. Next to the synagogue is a building that looks like a small medieval castle. It was built in 1906 as the ceremonial hall of the Jewish Burial Society.

Old-New Synagogue

Old-New Synagogue
The Old-New Synagogue (Staronová Synagóga) is one of the oldest European synagogues still serving its purpose and one of the oldest ones in the world. It was built around 1270 and has survived many disasters over the centuries and has been used as a refuge by the Jewish population over time and is still the religious centre for them today. There are many legends attached to this synagogue and one of these says that it was built of stones from the Second Temple in Jerusalem that were brought to Prague by angels. The legend continues saying they have to be given back to Jerusalem when a new temple is built there after the Messiah comes. Another legend associated with this synagogue is that of Prague Golem. Golem was a monster made of clay by Rabbi Löw in the 16th century to defend Jews and help them in bad times. Golem looked like a human being and could come alive by putting a piece of parchment with secret symbols into his mouth. Golem later became violent and had to be stopped by Rabbi Löw and made ‘dead’ again. According to the legend, there are still remains of the Golem monster kept in the Old-New Synagogue to be ‘woken’ when needed. Inside this Gothic building there are two huge octagonal pillars which support the vaults. In the middle of the synagogue there is the cantor’s platform which is surrounded by a Gothic grille. There is a historical flag of the Prague Jewish community above it with a symbol of the Jewish ghetto. Women were allowed to enter the Old-New Synagogue only on their wedding day and an annex building for them was added to the synagogue later where they could only look into the main hall through small windows. Today there are regular services held here as well as Jewish religious ceremonies.

High Synagogue
The High Synagogue (Vysoká Synagóga) was built in the 16th century with the financial help of Mordechai Maisel who was the mayor of the Jewish Town. The synagogue’s name comes from the fact that the prayer hall is situated on the first floor which was unusual for this time. The synagogues hosts an exhibition of Torah mantles, curtains, silver ornaments and also a Jewish museum shop on the ground floor.

Jewish Town Hall

Jewish Town Hall
The Jewish Town Hall (Židovská Radnice) is an 18th century Rococo building and is the centre of the local Jewish community. The most remarkable thing about it are the two clocks found on it, one on a tower with Roman numeral markings and the other with Hebrew numbers and hands that turn counterclockwise, just as Hebrew reads from right to left.

Maisel Synagogue

Maisel Synagogue
Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova Synagóga) was built by the rich mayor of the Jewish Town in 1592 as his private house of prayer but burnt down in 1689. A new Neo-Gothic synagogue was built between 1893 and 1905. Since the 1960s it has housed a wonderful collection of Jewish silver, textiles, prints and books. Most of the exhibits were brought to Prague by the Nazis from synagogues throughout the countries they occupied. Their intention was to set up a museum to the people they planned to make extinct.

Church of the Holy Ghost

Church of the Holy Ghost
The Church of the Holy Ghost (Kostel sv Ducha) is located in the small area that once separated the two Jewish communities of the Middle Ages. It was built in the mid-14th century as part of a convent of Benedictine nuns but was destroyed in 1420. It was originally built as a single-nave Gothic church but when it was rebuilt the Gothic exterior of high windows and buttresses was kept but internally it was given a Baroque remodel. Inside it has some interesting statues and paintings dating from the 14th to the 16th century.

Spanish Synagogue

Spanish Synagogue
The Spanish Synagogue (Španělská Synagóga) is considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. It was built in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer (the Old Shul). This was originally the area where only Jews from the East lived and was the centre of their community. It was designed in a Moorish style both externally and internally. The synagogue is built on a square with a large dome in the middle. On three sides there are open galleries on metal structures. The interior walls have stucco decorations of stylized Islamic motifs which are also found on the doors and gallery balustrades. For many years around the time of WW2 and after the Spanish Synagogue fell into disrepair and was closed for over 20 years but it was restored and re-opened on the 130th anniversary of its establishment. The synagogue now houses exhibitions and concerts.

Cubist Houses
During the rebuilding of the Jewish Quarter at the beginning of the 20th century the opportunity arose to try different styles of architecture and so a lot of buildings around this area are in the Art-Nouveau style. There was also the opportunity to try a new type of architecture which wasn’t as popular in the rest of Europe. This was Cubism. Some fine examples of this type of Cubist architecture can be found on the corner of Bílkova and Elišky Krásnohorské as well as no 7 on Elišky Krásnohorské. The style consists of a plain facade with simple repeated geometric shapes.

Church of St Simon and St Jude

Church of St Simon and St Jude
The Church of St Simon and St Jude (Kostel sv Šimona a Judy) was built by the Bohemia Brethren between 1615 and 1620 in the Gothic style but this was redecorated in the middle of 18th century in late Baroque style by the Brothers of Mercy who were given ownership after the Thiry-year war. There was a hospital that belonged to the Brothers and was the only one in Prague at this time. It was also a modern scientific institution and had the first anatomy lecture hall. The Brothers of Mercy were important physicians, pharmacists and musicians. The Church of St Simon and St Jude became a very important music centre in Central Europe and Johann Theobald Held who was a musician and composer, was also a physician, dean of the medical faculty and the head of the hospital. The organ in the church was built in 1724 by Andreas Wambesser and was played by Mozart and Haydn. The church now hosts concerts and still serves as a hospital called the Na Františku as well.

Church of St Castullus
The Church of St Castullus (Kostel sv Haštala) is found in a quiet little area. The church is one of the best Gothic buildings in Prague and was built on the site of an older Romanesque building in the late 14th century. The church was rebuilt again after a fire in 1689 and one of the few things to survive was the beautiful double nave on the north side with its wonderful pillars and ribbed vault. Some of the decorations inside date back to the time of the original church and one of the highlights are the sculptures depicting Calvary.

St Agnes of Bohemia Convent

St Agnes of Bohemia Convent
St Agnes of Bohemia Convent (Klášter sv Anežky České) is no longer used as a church but instead is a part of the National Gallery displaying medieval art from the local area and other parts of Central Europe. The site of this museum is the former convent of Poor Clares that was founded in 1234 by Agnes who was the sister of King Wenceslas 1. This Gothic church was abolished in 1782 and fell into disrepair. It was restored in the 1960s and now looks very similar to the original.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.ngprague.cz/en/4/sekce/convent-of-st-agnes-of-bohemia/