Jewish Quarter Walking Tour, Prague

Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Prague

The Jewish Quarter, also known as Josefov, is a part of the Old Town (Staré Město) of Prague.

The area breathes history and is a captivating blend of ancient synagogues and other monuments that collectively reflect centuries of Jewish life in the city. Some synagogues are still acting, and others have been converted into art galleries and museums.

One such is the Spanish Synagogue, a striking Moorish Revival-style building adorned with intricate designs. Nearby, the Jewish Museum offers a comprehensive insight into the history and traditions of Prague's Jewish community. The High Synagogue, showcasing its elegant Renaissance facade that survived the Great Fire, now houses exhibitions for the Jewish Museum and hosts a Holocaust literature bookstore.

One of the oldest continuously functioning synagogues in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue boasts a stark Gothic style and legendary tales of a Golem, amid rumors hinting at the angelic protection of this shrine throughout its tumultuous history.

The baroque-style Klausen Synagogue, standing at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, offers an enriching experience through its permanent exhibitions, providing a delightful glimpse into Czech Jewish culture. The adjacent Ceremonial Hall, once a mortuary, now serves as an exhibition space for Jewish ceremonial objects and artifacts.

Meanwhile, the Museum of Decorative Arts celebrates the Jewish community's artistic contributions. Exploring further, you encounter the solemn Pinkas Synagogue, which serves as a Holocaust Memorial.

These and other sites reveal the tapestry of Jewish history and culture in Prague. For those seeking to delve into the depths of Prague's Jewish Quarter, there's no better time than now to embark on this exploration and pay homage to a heritage that continues to resonate through the ages.
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Jewish Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jewish Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: Czech Republic » Prague (See other walking tours in Prague)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Spanish Synagogue
  • Jewish Museum
  • High Synagogue
  • Old-New Synagogue
  • Klausen Synagogue
  • Old Jewish Cemetery
  • Ceremonial Hall
  • Museum of Decorative Arts
  • Jan Palach Square
  • Pinkas Synagogue - Holocaust Memorial
  • Maisel Synagogue
Spanish Synagogue

1) Spanish Synagogue (must see)

Prague stands proud among European cities for its stunning architecture, and the Spanish Synagogue, even within the city's impressive array, is truly awe-inspiring. Situated in the Jewish Quarter, this Moorish Revival temple, designed by Vojtech Ingnatz Ullman and erected in 1868, occupies the site of the city's oldest synagogue. Seasoned travelers may recognize its resemblance to Vienna's Leopoldstadter Tempel, featuring a tripartite façade with taller central sections crowned by twin-domed turrets.

However, it's the interior that truly captivates. Adorned with Islamic-style arabesques intricately carved, molded, or painted on every surface except the floor, the effect is nothing short of stunning. Noteworthy features include the ark and bimah, the central space's dome embellished with a Magen David chandelier, and a beautiful organ.

Despite periods of neglect under Nazi and Communist rule, the synagogue underwent extensive restoration and reopened in 1998 under the ownership of the Jewish Museum. It now serves as a concert hall, with the adjacent Robert Guttmann Gallery hosting thoughtfully curated art exhibitions. Curiously, its name remains a mystery as it has never served a Spanish congregation.

Why You Should Visit:
As the most striking and distinctive synagogue in Prague's Jewish Quarter, it's an ideal starting point for exploring the area. Nearby, you'll find a bakeshop for a quick bite or sweet indulgence.
Jewish Museum

2) Jewish Museum

Established in 1906 by historians Dr. Hugo Lieben and Dr. Augustin Stein, both later prominent figures in the Prague Jewish Community, the Jewish Museum of Prague originated with the aim of safeguarding artifacts from the demolished synagogues of the old Jewish Quarter during early 20th-century urban renewal efforts.

In 1942, during the Nazi regime, the premises were repurposed as the Central Jewish Museum, dedicated to commemorating the cultural legacy of the Jewish people through the collection of significant items of Jewish ceremonial art. Objects were gathered from Jewish communities and synagogues across Bohemia and Moravia. Although the museum reopened under Communist rule after World War II, its true flourishing awaited the liberation of the Czech lands from Communism.

Admission now includes access to the Old Jewish Cemetery and exhibitions housed in four remaining synagogues and the Ceremony Hall. The Old-New Synagogue, still an active place of worship, requires a separate ticket for entry, though a combined ticket option is available for those wishing to visit all attractions, known as the Prague Jewish Town ("Pražské Židovské město") ticket.

For an optimal experience, consider visiting early in the day or later in the afternoon.
If unable to explore everything in one visit, returning the following day is a viable option.
High Synagogue

3) High Synagogue

Financed by Mordechai Maisel, a prominent philanthropist and one of Prague's wealthiest individuals of his time, the High Synagogue of the Jewish Quarter was constructed in a refined Renaissance style, reaching completion in 1568. Positioned adjacent to the Jewish Town Hall, it served as a venue for the council's deliberations and housed the Rabbinic Court. Its name "High" originated from its location, with the prayer hall situated on the building's first floor.

In 1689, the synagogue fell victim to the devastating Great Fire, yet meticulous restoration efforts ensued, preserving its original ribbed vault adorned with an eight-pointed star motif. In 1883, the structure underwent renovations, resulting in the modest façade seen today.

Throughout the periods of Nazi and Communist rule, the High Synagogue functioned as an exhibition space for the Jewish Museum, showcasing Torah textiles, silver ceremonial artifacts, and ancient Hebrew manuscripts. Following the collapse of Communism, a bookshop was established, specializing in literature pertaining to the Holocaust.

Since 1997, the synagogue has been reconsecrated as a place of worship for both Prague residents and visitors, thereby restricting access to tourists. Within its walls, visitors can marvel at impressive Torah scrolls and intricately adorned mantles.
Old-New Synagogue

4) Old-New Synagogue

The Old-New Synagogue holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously functioning synagogue in all of Europe. Originally named the "New" or "Great" synagogue upon its construction in the 13th century, its ironic moniker emerged when newer structures emerged in the 16th century. Characterized by its austere high ceilings, arched Gothic windows, and unadorned dark ironwork, it stands in stark contrast to the more ornate edifices surrounding it. Notably, it is the oldest synagogue featuring a twin nave, a design influence attributed to Christian architects who drew inspiration from contemporary monasteries.

Legend shrouds the synagogue's attic, reputedly housing a colossal clay creature crafted by Rabbi Löw around 1590. According to lore, the Rabbi fashioned the mythical Golem to safeguard the Jewish community, tucking it in for Sabbath rest each Friday night. However, as the Golem's behavior grew increasingly erratic, akin to Frankenstein's monster, the Rabbi consigned it to prolonged dormancy in the attic, awaiting a time of need. Presently, access to the attic is restricted to visitors, ensuring their "safety". Rumors persist that the synagogue's endurance throughout fires and wars is owed to the protective presence of angelic wings transformed into doves.

While this site operates independently from the Jewish Museum, visitors can combine entry with other museum attractions via the Prague Jewish Town ticket. Advanced tickets for exclusive access to the Old-New Synagogue can be purchased online.
Klausen Synagogue

5) Klausen Synagogue

Conveniently situated right at the entrance to the Old Jewish Cemetery, this baroque synagogue offers an enriching experience through its permanent exhibitions. It's an absolute delight for connoisseurs of Czech Jewish culture, offering a glimpse into daily life and the significance of the High Holidays. Constructed at the close of the 17th century, it rose from the ashes of not one, not two, but three modest buildings—a synagogue, a school, and a ritual bath—all claimed by a fiery inferno that engulfed the ghetto in 1689.

Adjacent to the Klausen Synagogue, the Ceremony Hall provides an experience that's positively sedate. Here, visitors can explore a collection of Jewish funeral artifacts, from ancient gravestones to medical apparatuses, all meticulously curated. Of special note are the displays dedicated to the activities of the Jewish Burial Society, brought to life through a plethora of exquisite artifacts and paintings, showcasing their important role in the community.
Old Jewish Cemetery

6) Old Jewish Cemetery

This cemetery, among Europe's largest of its kind, presents an unforgettable sight, serving as the final resting place for all Jews residing in Prague from the 15th century to 1787. Due to space constraints in the cramped ghetto, graves were stacked atop one another, resulting in an arrangement where the 12,000 visible tombstones represent only a fraction of the thousands more buried beneath.

Initially simple, the gravestones soon evolved with ornamental additions like pilasters, volutes, and false portals, with the most elaborate designs emerging in the 17th century. Despite variations in decoration, each tombstone bears Hebrew inscriptions detailing the deceased's name and date of death or burial. During the Renaissance, effusive praise of the individual's virtues accompanied the brief eulogies, while symbols hinting at the deceased's life, character, name, or profession became prevalent from the 16th century onward.

Among the notable graves, Avigdor Kara, a poet who passed away in 1439, occupies the oldest marked plot, with his original tombstone housed in the Maisel Synagogue. Another prominent figure interred here is Jehuda ben Bezalel, known as Rabbi Löw, who died in 1609. As a revered chief rabbi of Prague and a scholar credited with the creation of the mythical golem, small scraps of paper containing wishes are still inserted into the crevices of his tomb, hopeful for their fulfillment.
Ceremonial Hall

7) Ceremonial Hall

Just to your left upon exiting the Old Jewish Cemetery stands a structure reminiscent of an ancient castle or stately manor. This is the Ceremonial Hall, prompting curiosity about its history. Regrettably, there's little remarkable tale attached to it.

Constructed in the early 1900s with a striking mock Romanesque design, the hall was entrusted to the Jewish Burial Society. It served as both a ceremonial hall and mortuary, where esteemed members of the Jewish community were prepared for burial. Remarkably, this building was spared by the Nazis during their occupation, earmarked to be part of their envisioned "Museum to an Extinct Race".

Today, under the ownership of the Jewish Museum, the Ceremonial Hall hosts permanent exhibitions. One exhibit focuses on illness, death, and vivid depictions of ancient burial customs, featuring examples of gravestones, tombs, memorials, and donated paintings from the Burial Society. Another exhibit, less somber in tone, forms Part II of the Jewish Customs and Traditions Exhibition (with Part I housed in the nearby Klausen Synagogue). It delves into the everyday lives of Jewish households across centuries, offering intriguing insights into their customs and traditions. It's a fascinating and educational experience, well worth a visit.
Museum of Decorative Arts

8) Museum of Decorative Arts

Since its establishment in 1885 until the conclusion of the First Republic era, the Museum of Decorative Arts (known as UPM) served as a repository for the finest contributions of the Czech modern movement, spanning from Art Nouveau to avant-garde expressions, resulting in an unparalleled collection. Adorned with intricate mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures, the building itself is a testament to artistic craftsmanship, while its ground-floor temporary exhibitions consistently impress.

In recent times, the museum has undergone extensive reconstruction, resulting in the temporary closure of its exhibitions during the renovation period. The primary goal was to refine the curation of its collections, which encompass textiles and lavishly embroidered religious vestments from the 15th to the 18th centuries, lacework from various eras, costumes spanning three centuries, and remarkable displays of glass, ceramics, and pottery—often regarded as the highlight of the museum. Additionally, visitors can explore exhibits featuring furniture, jewelry, curiosities, Czech photography, interwar prints, works by Josef Sudek, avant-garde graphics by Karel Teige, book designs by Josef Váchal, and some of Alfons Mucha's iconic turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian advertising posters.

Don't miss the superb design-oriented gift shop and the excellent café, popular among local artists, for a well-rounded experience.
Jan Palach Square

9) Jan Palach Square

Compared to other squares in Prague, Jan Palach Square has a relatively recent history. Found on the right bank of the Vltava river within the Old Town, not far from the Jewish Quarter, it was initially named the Square of the Red Army in honor of the Russian soldiers who lost their lives while liberating Prague in 1945. However, between 1969 and 1970, the square underwent a tentative renaming to "Jan Palach", in remembrance of the young student who tragically committed self-immolation in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. This name change persisted and was officially sanctioned at the close of 1989, following the fall of the Communist regime.

The western side, which faces the river, offers splendid views of the iconic Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, with the Mάnes Bridge serving as a connection to the Lesser Town. To the north, one can admire the Rudolfinum Concert Hall and Art Gallery, while to the south lies the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design. On the eastern side, the Charles University Faculty of Arts commands attention.

A statue of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak can be seen in front of the Rudolfinum, and another of Josef Mάnes, renowned for his exquisite depictions of the twelve months for the Astronomical Clock in 1870, is positioned by the river. As for Jan Palach, a commemorative plaque honoring his courage can be found in Wenceslas Square.
Pinkas Synagogue - Holocaust Memorial

10) Pinkas Synagogue - Holocaust Memorial

Constructed in 1535, the second-oldest synagogue in Prague has undergone numerous renovations throughout its long history, now serving as a solemn tribute to the more than 77,000 Czech Jews who perished during the Shoah, also known as the Holocaust. Between 1992 and 1996, names were painstakingly inscribed on the synagogue's interior walls, arranged by both family name and the victims' Bohemian and Moravian hometowns, transforming it into a poignant site of remembrance.

Visitors are further immersed in the harrowing history as they proceed through a hall adorned with drawings created by children who were incarcerated at the Jewish ghetto of Terezín en route to the concentration camps of Treblinka or Auschwitz. These drawings, preserved by a courageous teacher who conducted art classes during her internment at Terezín from 1942 to 1944, offer a poignant glimpse into the young residents' experiences, blending moments of happier times with expressions of profound despair. Remarkably, the teacher clandestinely safeguarded the drawings in two suitcases, ensuring their survival.

Why You Should Visit:
Among the many landmarks in the Jewish quarter, the Holocaust Memorial stands out as an exceptionally moving testament. Every inch of wall space is occupied by a carved stone list of victims, each entry bearing their name, date of birth, and date of death or transportation to the camps. This extensive epitaph, the longest of its kind in the world, serves as a sobering reminder of the countless lives lost in the Nazi concentration camps, despite representing only a fraction of the total casualties.
Maisel Synagogue

11) Maisel Synagogue

Similar to the Jewish Town Hall, as well as the Klausen and High synagogues, the Maisel Synagogue was established and funded entirely by philanthropist Mordecai Maisel. Positioned slightly set back from the adjacent buildings along Maiselova Street, the synagogue once boasted unparalleled ornateness within Josefov and held the distinction of being Prague's first synagogue open to women. Originally designed in the Renaissance style, it suffered significant damage during the Great Fire of 1689, leading to its reconstruction with a Baroque façade, later replaced by the current neo-Gothic façade in the late 19th century.

Today, its unadorned, whitewashed interior hosts an exhibition chronicling the history of the Czech-Jewish community up to the 1781 Edict of Tolerance. Showcased within glass cabinets are precious gold and silverwork, Hanukkah candlesticks, Torah scrolls, and other religious artifacts. Visitors can also view examples of outdated ruffs worn by unmarried males from the age of twelve and a replica of Ferdinand I's decree mandating the circular yellow badge. In contrast, the most opulent items on display date back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a period of prosperity for Prague's Jewish community. It is worth noting the irony that many of the valuable artifacts showcased here were brought to Prague by the Nazis themselves, sourced from various other synagogues across Bohemia and Moravia.

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