After a slight diversion and writing on other topics, I’m back to writing about my favorite place – Europe!
In May this year we started our second Europe trip from Prague again, as we just didn’t get enough of it last time and also the tickets were the cheapest than any other country. As this was our second trip to Prague, we decided to revisit the places we loved during our first trip and also visit the places that we had previously missed. One of the places we missed but really wanted to see was Josefov.
Josefov is a small Jewish Quarter in Prague located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. While Jews are living in Prague from as early as 10th century, the establishment of this ghetto is believed to be in the 13th century, when Jews in Prague were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one particular area. Over time more and more Jews settled in this area, as there were increasing restrictions on their living areas, movements and trade.
Over the years, these quarters saw numerous structural changes to first accommodate the increasing population of Jews and then as part of remodeling of the city (making it on the same lines as Paris), most of the quarters were demolished between 1893-1913. Today, all that remains of this quarter are six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall. Contrary to all expectations, during the Nazi German occupation, this area was well-preserved in order to provide a site for a planned “exotic museum of an extinct race”. Hence the Nazis gathered the largest collection of Jewish artifacts from all over central Europe and brought them here for display in Josefov.
We had never seen any Jewish Quarter / ghetto or Synagogues before this and were quite interested in visiting this (one of the most intact and well-preserved structures). We walked to the Jewish quarters from the Old Town Square and saw many of these surviving Synagogues from outside. They are all built-in a single lane over a very small but picturesque area and are very easy to reach and explore.
We first saw The Old-New Synagogue which is the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe. It was built-in the late 13th century in the early Gothic style and is richly adorned with intricate stonework. This Synagogue is still the main house of prayer for Prague’s present Jewish community. We then walked further and saw other Synagogues namely the Maisel, Klausen, Spanish, Pinkas, and Chevra Synagogues. I loved taking pictures of all the unusual designs of these synagogues (each one is distinct and unique), their distinct colors, shapes of trees around, unique shapes and colors of roofs, and the cute clocks.
This is an area where you can just wander around and click pictures of the Synagogues on quaint roads. I don’t have any pics of the interiors but I understand that there are some interesting sights to see there too, such as –
- The Old Jewish Cemetery which is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. Owing to the limited space and Jewish custom (of not to disturb old graves) the cemetery has been covered with earth several times, and new graves were created on existing ones. Today in some places, there are as many as twenty layers expected to be on top of each other.
- The interior of the Old-New Synagogue has all original work and according to one of the legends, is the resting place of the legendary Golem – the predecessor of Frankenstein’s monster.
- The Silent memorial to the victims of the holocaust in the Pinkas Synagogue. The walls of this Synagogue hold the longest epitaph in the world, which lists the names of those who died in the various Nazi concentration camps.
- Maisel Klaus has some wonderful examples of Jewish architecture
- The interiors of the Spanish Synagogue is stunning with wonderful golden decorations.
- The Jewish Town Hall with its picturesque little tower, is one of the symbols of the Prague ghetto.
These buildings form the best preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments in the whole of Europe. However the only disappointment is that all around this area there are newer buildings (of the 20th century) and hence you are unable to imagine or get a sense what this ghetto originally looked like. 😦 Still its worth a visit.
Tips for the trip –
- The Jewish Quarters are located very close to the Old Town Square and there are ample signs providing directions all around.
- In case you have the time and are interested in exploring this area in detail, then you check the following link for all the available sights in the Quarter.
- A single ticket of the Jewish Museum gets you entry into all the historical sights in this quarter and other buildings under their control. However there is a separate ticket for The Old-New Synagogue.