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Jewish Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Prague

Josefov, formerly the Jewish ghetto of the town, is completely surrounded by Prague Staré Město. Here you can find beautiful and historically important synagogues, as well as art galleries and museums. This tour will help you to explore the most interesting sites of the Jewish quarter.
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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: 12
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
  • The Old New Synagogue
  • Klausen Synagogue
  • Old Jewish Cemetery
  • Ceremonial Hall
  • The Museum of Decorative Arts
  • Jan Palach Square
  • The Rudolfinum Art Gallery
  • Pinkas Synagogue
  • Maisel Synagogue
Spanish Synagogue

1) Spanish Synagogue (must see)

Prague can quite rightly boast to having some of the most beautifully decorated buildings in Europe and the Spanish Synagogue, even by Prague’s standards, is quite simply breathtaking.

Located in the Jewish Quarter, this Moorish Revival synagogue was built in 1868 according to the plans by Vojtech Ingnatz Ullman, on the site of the oldest synagogue in Prague. If you are a seasoned traveler, you might think that the building looks familiar; this is because it is a close copy of the Leopoldstadter Tempel in Vienna, with the tripartite façade and the central section with its twin-domed turrets taller than the two flanking ones.

It is the interior of the synagogue that takes one's breath away. Every surface, apart from the floor, is covered with Islamic-style arabesques that are carved in the wood, molded or painted. The overall effect is stunning. Of particular note is the ark and bimah, the dome over the central space with its Magen David chandelier and the beautiful organ.

During the Nazi and Communist occupation, the synagogue fell into disrepair and was closed for over 20 years. It was restored by the Jewish Museum who owns it and reopened in 1998 as a concert hall and museum. Its name is a bit of a mystery as it has never been used by a Spanish congregation.

Why You Should Visit:
The most beautiful and unusual synagogue in Prague's Jewish Town.

Recommended visiting as part of the Jewish Quarter tour.
Bakeshop is close-by for a sandwich or a sweet treat.

Opening Hours:
October–March: 9am-4:30pm; April–September: 9am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Jewish Museum

2) Jewish Museum (must see)

The Jewish Museum in Prague was founded in 1906 by historian Dr. Hugo Lieben and Dr. Augustin Stein, who later became head of the Prague Jewish Community. The goal was to preserve artifacts from the Prague synagogues demolished during the Urban renewal of the old Jewish Quarter at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1942 the Nazi regime established the Central Jewish Museum, with the goal of commemorating the heritage of an exterminated people by collecting notable objects of Jewish ceremonial art. Artifacts were shipped to the museum from all the Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. The museum reopened under the post-War Communist government but began to flourish after the Czech lands were liberated from Communism.

Why You Should Visit:
Apart from the museum itself with its historical exhibits, you get to see the synagogues, the cemetery, and the WWII memorial. The Klausen Synagogue, now religiously inactive, gives insights into Jewish traditions and is a single example of an early Baroque synagogue in the area.

Best time to see everything is very early or later in the day.
You can also go back the next day in case you don't get to see it all.

Opening Hours:
Winter time: 9am–4.30pm; Summer time: 9am–6 pm, closed on Saturdays
Sight description based on wikipedia
High Synagogue

3) High Synagogue

The High Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter was built in 1568 next to the Jewish Town Hall. It was financed by Mordechai Maisel, a philanthropist and one of the richest men in Prague.

Built next to the Jewish Town Hall, the synagogue was a place of preaching for the councillors of the Town Hall and also where the Rabbinic Court was held. The name came from the fact that the prayer hall is found on the 1st floor of the building.

In 1689 the synagogue was destroyed in the Great Fire, but was reconstructed and the original ribbed vault with its 8 pointed star was carefully restored. In 1883 the building was renovated and received the rather simplistic façade it has today.

During the Nazi and Communist occupations the synagogue was used by the Jewish Museum to display Torah textiles, silver ceremonial tools and ancient Hebrew books. After the fall of communism a bookshop opened and sold books about the Holocaust.

Since 1997 the synagogue is once again a place of worship for Prague citizens and foreigners and is no longer open to tourists.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Old New Synagogue

4) The Old New Synagogue

The Old New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is the oldest synagogue in Europe that is still in use as a place of prayer. It is also the oldest synagogue that boasts a twin nave.

The synagogue was built in 1270 and is one of Prague’s 1st Gothic buildings. The twin nave is explained by the building’s architects being Christians who based the plans on monasteries of the period.

The double naves have six vaulted bays each with five-ribbed vaulting, which is rather unusual, as most Gothic vaulting is four or six-ribbed. Some scholars say that it was to avoid a semblance of the Christian cross. The bays each have two narrow Gothic windows. Over the tympanum of the portal, the moulding depicts 12 vines with 12 bunches of grapes. The number 12 would seem to represent the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Several legends are attached to the synagogue; one being that the foundation stones were carried to Prague from the ruins of Solomon’s Temple by angels and that the synagogue is “Tnay” which means “on condition”. This means that the building will remain undamaged until it is moved to Jerusalem. “Thay” might have been corrupted to “alt-neu” (old-new) which could explain how the synagogue came by its strange name.

Another legend relates that the body of the Golem of Prague lies in the genizah (attic) and that a German soldier who tried to enter the attic was struck down by the Golem. It’s true that during the 2nd World War, the Nazi’s never penetrated the genizah. The lower 3 metres of the stairs leading to the attic have been removed and it is not open to visitors.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Klausen Synagogue

5) Klausen Synagogue

The Klausen Synagogue stands near the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery in the Jewish Quarter. It is particularly worth visiting for its permanent exhibitions.

The synagogue was commissioned by Mordechai Maisel, a rich philanthropist, in honour of Emperor Ferdinand III who visited the area in 1573. Originally it consisted of three buildings and named “Klausen” which is the plural of “Klaus” and means “small buildings”. The 1st building was used for religious ceremonies, the 2nd was a Talmud School where Rabbi Lowe (of the Golem of Prague fame) taught and the 3rd building housed the ritual baths.

The original Klausen was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1689 and rebuilt as one synagogue in 1704. It was the largest place of worship in the Jewish Quarter and was the seat of the Prague Burial Society.

Today the synagogue holds a permanent exhibition in the central nave, dedicated to Jewish Customs and Traditions. Here you will learn about customs related to events from birth to death, including circumcision, weddings and divorce. There are also Hebrew prints and manuscripts on display and touching drawings made by the children from the Terezin ghetto, as well as a fine collection of Hanukkah candelabras and Esther Scrolls.
Old Jewish Cemetery

6) Old Jewish Cemetery (must see)

The Old Jewish Cemetery is a Jewish cemetery, which is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the most important Jewish historical monuments in Prague. It served its purpose from the first half of 15th century till 1786. Renowned personalities of the local Jewish community were buried here; among them rabbi Jehuda Liva ben Becalel – Maharal (ca. 1526–1609), businessman Mordecai Meisel (1528–1601), historian David Gans (ca. 1541–1613) and rabbi David Oppenheim (1664–1736). Today the cemetery is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The cemetery is mentioned in Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery, the novel which was named after it.

There are two kinds of Jewish burial monuments (in Hebrew matzevot) – the older is a slab of wood or stone, basically rectangular, but with various endings at the top. Tumba (in Hebrew ohel – tent) appears later, in baroque times. It is generally more representative than the first mentioned kind and resembles a little house. Such tumbas commemorate on the cemetery for example Maharal or Mordecai Maisel. Tumbas do not contain the remains; they are buried underneath in ground.

The oldest gravestones on Old Jewish cemetery are plain, yet very soon the number of ornaments (pilasters, volutes, false portals, etc.) began to increase. Most decorated gravestones come from 17th century. However, on every gravestone there are Hebrew letters that inform about the name of the deceased person and the date of his or her death or burial. Copious praise of deceased' virtues appears beside brief eulogy ("of blessed memory") in Renaissance time. From 16th century the gravestones characterize the deceased also through various symbols, hinting at the life, character, name or profession of the people (see the tables below for details).
Sight description based on wikipedia
Ceremonial Hall

7) Ceremonial Hall

Just next to the Klausen Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter you will come across a building that resembles an old castle or perhaps a grand manor house. This is the Ceremonial Hall and you’ll probably ask yourself what wonderful history is connected to this impressive building.

Sadly, the answer is: not much. The Hall was built in 1912 from designs by the architect J. Gerstl in a pseudo-Romanesque style. It was given to the Jewish Burial Society and was once a ceremonial hall and mortuary, where important members of the Jewish society were taken to be prepared for burial. It is one of the buildings in the area that the Nazi’s left untouched during their occupation and was destined to become a part of their “Museum to an Extinct Race”.

Today it belongs to the Jewish Museum and holds permanent exhibitions, one devoted to illness, death and graphic descriptions of ancient burial rites, along with examples of gravestones, tombs, memorials and paintings donated by the Burial Society.

The other exhibition is less morbid; it is Part II of the Jewish Customs and Traditions Exhibition (Part I is to be found in the Klausen Synagogue) and deals with the everyday life of Jewish households over the centuries. It is a very interesting, instructive exhibition and well worth visiting.
The Museum of Decorative Arts

8) The Museum of Decorative Arts

Located in the Jewish Quarter, the Museum of Decorative Arts is housed in a 19th century Neo-Renaissance building and displays examples of international historical and contemporary arts. The aim of the museum is to leave samples of art and crafts throughout-the-ages for future generations.

The ground floor of the museum holds exhibitions that change every month of art students and renowned artists. On the first floor are the permanent exhibitions of objects from the 14th century to the present day.

The Story of Fibre Exhibition has a wonderful collection of wedding dresses dating from the 14th to the 19th century and miniature dresses for porcelain dolls. In the Print and Image section you will find books and prints made on the first printing presses, photos, public notices and books on graphic arts from the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Treasury Exhibition displays metals and assorted metal objects: jewellery, candlesticks, statues, etc. The Time Machine gallery features clocks and watches from the 15th to the 20th century. In the Glass and Ceramics gallery you will find 16th – 19th century ceramics, 18 – 19th century porcelain and 20th century glass and ceramics.

There is also a small gift ‘area’ at the entrance and a very good café that is often frequented by local artists. There is a small entrance fee to the museum and a little extra for an audio guide.

Opening hours: Tuesday: 10:00 am - 8:00 pm; Wednesday - Sunday 10 am - 6 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Jan Palach Square

9) Jan Palach Square

Jan Palach Square is a ‘new’ square when compared to other squares in Prague. In 1945 it was named the Square of the Red Army in commemoration of the Russian soldiers who died liberating Prague. Between 1969 and 1970 it was rather tentatively renamed Jan Palach Square after the young student committed suicide by self-immolation as a protest of the Soviet occupation of his country. The name was officially adopted at the end of 1989 after the communist regime came to an end.

You can find the square in the Old Town on the right bank of the river not far from the Jewish Quarter. The West side of the square is adjacent to the river and affords a great view of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. The square is connected to the Lesser Town by the Mάnes Bridge.

To the North of the square, you can see the Rudolfinum Concert Hall and Art Gallery and to the South, the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. On the East side stands the Charles University Faculty of Arts.

In front of the Rudolfinum there is a statue of the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and by the river you will find a statue of Josef Mάnes the Czech painter who is best known for the beautiful images he painted of the months that were added to the Astronomical Clock in 1870. If you wish to see a commemorative plaque for Jan Palach, you will find it in Wenceslas Square.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Rudolfinum Art Gallery

10) The Rudolfinum Art Gallery

If you want to visit a really fine gallery while in Prague, don’t miss the Rudolfinum Art Gallery in the Rudolfinum complex. This beautiful Neo-Renaissance building which opened in 1885 was used as the seat of the Czech Parliament for several years before the 2nd World War and became the home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946. The Art Gallery was opened in 1994 and occupies 1500 sqm of well-appointed exposition space. The gallery doesn’t have its own permanent exhibition and specialises mainly in avant-garde paintings and sculptures by famous international artists and local Czech artists. It occasionally displays paintings from older epochs to demonstrate the changes in art over the centuries.

The temporary exhibitions are often organised by foreign institutions in and around Prague. The events taking place are always given a lot of publicity and they attract a great number of people. These events include evening viewings, special interest occupation for schools and seminars. When you have finished visiting the gallery, you can see the rest of the complex, including the Dvorak Concert Hall which has a magnificent pipe organ behind the stage. The complex café is a nice place to relax and have a cup of coffee and some very good cakes.

Why You Should Visit:
Great combination of gallery, concert hall, and café.
Prices for exhibitions fall in the average range.

Opening Hours:
Tue–Wed, Fri–Sun: 10am–6pm; Thursday: 10am–8pm; closed on Mondays
Sight description based on wikipedia
Pinkas Synagogue

11) Pinkas Synagogue

Built in 1535 next to the Jewish Cemetery, Pinkas Synagogue was commissioned by Aaron Mesullam Horowitz as a family place of worship. The synagogue was named after Aaron’s grandson the Rabbi Pinkas Horowitz. It has a reticulated vault and the southern tract and gallery for women was added in the 17th century. During an archaeological survey before reconstruction and renovation following water damage in the late 60s, vaulted spaces, a ritual bath and an ancient well were discovered under the basement.

Since the end of the 2nd World War the synagogue is the Memorial for the Jewish Victims of Bohemia and Moravia with over 80.000 names inscribed on the walls. The Memorial was designed and executed by Vaclav Bostik and Jiri John between 1954 and 1959 with the names, dates of birth and death of the Jews deported to the concentration camps.

On the walls in the main nave are the names of the victims who lived in Prague and the adjoining walls bear the names of those who lived in surrounding villages and towns. All are arranged according to village and in alphabetical order. There are also a number of children’s drawings from the Terezin ghetto.

It is an incredibly sad place to visit and you won’t be blamed if you leave there in tears. It is also, however, a moving memorial to the men, women and children who never came back from the camps and the ghettos.
Maisel Synagogue

12) Maisel Synagogue

South of the New Old Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, you will find the Maisel Synagogue which belongs nowadays to the Jewish Museum and is used, as are many other buildings in Prague, as an exhibition hall.

The synagogue was built in 1592 by the Josef Wahl as a private place of prayer for Mordechai Maisel. This rich philanthropist also commissioned the Klausen and High synagogues and the Jewish Town Hall. Built on 20 pillars, the synagogue is the first in Prague to be accessible by women.

The synagogue was built in the Renaissance style but was badly damaged during the Great Fire in 1689. It was later rebuilt and was given a Baroque façade. Its present Neo-Gothic façade dates to the end of the 19th century.

The exhibition features details of how the Jews settled in the Czech lands, with artefacts from the 10th and 11th centuries such as Czech dinars. Medieval and early modern settlements are explained with manuscripts relating to the persecution of Czech Jews and anti-Semitism in Europe. On the central platform of the main nave is a stunning display of synagogue silver including a Levite laver and basin made in 1702 by Jan Jiri Lux. You will also see Bohemian and Moravian synagogue curtains and manuscripts of the work of 12th to 18th century scholars.

It is a fine exhibition and it is ironical to think that most of the precious artefacts on display where brought to Prague and stored here by the Nazis.

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