Prague's Jewish Quarter, Your Self Guided Walking Tour of the Best Things to See and Do in Josefov
The Jewish Quarter, or Josefov as it called in Czech, is the smallest of Prague’s neighbourhoods and yet perhaps is the one filled with such intense and powerful histories. Although some of these histories are rather dark, these streets seem to fill to bursting with stories. The echoes along the cobblestones feel like the voices of the people who once called this place home. Many of the areas most important buildings were spared from destruction, and you can still to this day walk through their doors to discover secrets from the past.
Prague's Jewish Quarter is located between Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Our starting point is at the Robert Guttmann Gallery and from the Old Town is only a 3 minute walk away. Even if you're coming from the other side of town in the Castle district, a walk to Josefov is only 20 minutes and is the easiest way of accessing this area. If you do need to access the area by tram the nearest tram stop is Právnická fakulta.
Tickets and Admission
Most of Jewish Quarter has been reestablished with the help of the Jewish Museum. While most of us might think of a museum as one building with different things inside of it, the Prague Jewish Museum is made up of much more than just one building. The museum is actually made up of 40,000 artefacts as well as over 100,000 documents and archives of the Czech Jewish population spread out over six different historical buildings in the Jewish Quarter. The various exhibitions of these artefacts are located in the multiple synagogues we will visit along the way. While this tour covers both the building's exteriors and interiors, the interiors do require an admission fee to the Jewish Museum. If you're on a time crunch, you can definitely do most of this tour without admission into the interiors, but I would highly recommend going inside. And the Old Jewish cemetery, one of the most impactful parts of the journey, is unable to be viewed without an entry ticket. The admission you'll pay helps preserve this history of this part of Prague for future generations and is well worth the cost. The best way to get tickets is online. There are a variety of tickets available to buy, which will let you into a different combination of the interiors. My advice is to purchase the Jewish Town of Prague Combo Ticket. It costs CZK 500 or $21 USD for adults and 350 CZK or $15 USD for kids. This ticket includes entry to Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Old Jewish Cemetery, Klausen Synagogue, Ceremonial Hall, Spanish Synagogue, Old-New Syn
The opening hours for buildings which make up the Prague Museum are 9 am to 6 pm in the summer, and 9 am to 4:30 pm in the winter. Be aware that the museums are open every day EXCEPT Saturday and all Jewish holidays. When we first came to visit, we totally forgot about this and had to go back as we went to see everything on a Saturday. Since most other museums are usually closed on Monday, visiting the Prague Jewish Quarter on a Monday is a great thing to schedule when the rest o Prague's museums are closed.
The streets of Josefov have seen their fair share of sadness and horror over the years. The Jewish Quarter's history began in the 11th century when remaining Jewish settlement was destroyed in the cities the first pogrom in 1096. A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic group. To subdue these riots, the Fourth Council of the Lateran ordered segregation of the Jews from the Christians and the official Jewish Quarter was formed. Jews were ordered to vacate their homes all over Prague and settle into this one section of the city. In addition to the Jews of Prague, Jews from countries such as Germany, Austria and Spain also moved to Prague to settle in the newly established Jewish Quarter.
In the 16th century Prague saw a kind of artistic and intellectual Renaissance. Academics and creatives from all across Europe began to flock to this mystical city. One of the most famous Jews to come to the city was Rabbi Loew who published more than 50 religious and philosophical books. Jacob Bashevi was the first Jew to be knighted under the Hapsburg Empire. But the man responsible for the Jewish quarters Golden Age is the great Mayor Mordechai Maisel, for whom one of the synagogues we'll visit today is named after. Maisal was Prague's Minister of Finance, and himself helped finance the development of the Quarter. He ensured they got some much needed new streets, which in turn resulted in the addition of some fantastic modern architecture which popped up around it. But the end of the century over 10% of Prague's population was living inside the Jewish Quarter.
The reason the Quarter is named 'Josefov' is after Emperor Josefov II. He was the one who made it a point during his rule to emancipate the Jewish population, granting them equal rights. His mother, Empress Maria Theresa, had only years earlier expelled all the Jews from Prague. Once Josefov became the Holy Roman Emperor, he not only reversed his mother's cruel ruling but also officially recognized their religion. He also named the Jewish Quarter an official district of Prague and abolished the ghetto. At the time, more Jews lived in Prague than anywhere else in the world. Here they had a dynamic and vibrant neighbourhood where they could practice their religion, enjoy community festivities and bask in the beauty of the neighbourhood they had built up.
But the good times wouldn't last very long. In 1939, Germany officially occupied Czech lands. At the time, there were over 92,00 Jews living in Prague, which accounted for 20% of the population of Prague. As tension and fears began to mount, 26,000 Jews left the country, escaped or emigrated outside of Germany occupied cities across the world. But the remaining citizens were eventually imprisoned in Terezin, and more than 80% were then deported to Auschwitz. Over 97,000 Czech Jews died in WWII, only about 15,000 Czech Jews survived and remained in Prague following the war. But after a few years, more than half of these Jews moved to Israel. As you walk along the cobblestone roads and gaze at the incredible architecture, take into your memory the people who lost their lives so violently during this period of history.
During World War II, Hitler made the surprising decision to conserve almost all of the Jewish memorabilia and synagogues in Prague. But his reason for doing so wasn't out of pity. Prague's Jewish history was only spared to preserve it as the "Museum of an Extinct Race". Thankfully, Hitler did not carry out his horrid manifesto, but despite this fact, millions of Jews across Europe perished during the Holocaust. Over 60 synagogues across the Czech Republic were destroyed along with hundreds more across Europe. Prague's Jewish Quarter was now truly a treasure as it contained such a large wealth of Jewish history in such a small area. In the 1980s people began flocking to the city to marvel at its "Precious Legacy". A new term coined by the newly formed Prague Jewish Museum who made it their mission to educate people and protect their cultural histories.
Walking Tour Starting Point: Robert Guttmann Gallery
While it might seem rather like a slow start to a walking tour, I think one of the best places to start this tour is at the Robert Guttmann Gallery. Entry into this Gallery is included in the admission to the Jewish Museum. This gallery featured images, art and artefacts from Jewish life in Prague. In here you'll see pictures of buildings we'll explore later in the tour as they looked years ago. It will also help you learn more about the Jewish people who came to Bohemian and Moravian and the persecution they suffered over the years. The gravity of all of this I think helps contextualize the rest of the tour. It makes the fact that we can still see these buildings and they were not lost, all the more powerful. In addition to the historical items, there are also some temporary exhibitions of modern Jewish visual art to be seen here as well.
Start your tour at the step of the Spanish Synagogue. The Spanish Synagogue stands in the spot where the oldest Synagogue in Prague, the Old School Temple, once stood. In the 19th century, the Synagogue wasn't big enough for the community, so the new Spanish Synagogue was built in its place. The synagogue is built in Moorish Revival Style, defined by its muscular horseshoe arches, the onion-shaped dome as well as it's intricate and ornate decorative patterns both on the exterior and interior. Despite being handed over to the Jewish museums in 1958, the Synagogue was in much need of restoration, but this wasn't completed until 1998 when the Synagogue was finally restored to its original beauty.
You cannot visit the Spanish Synagogue without stepping inside. The plain white exterior is hiding an absolutely spectacular secret. Stepping in the front doors, 'you're immediately struck with a cacophony of colours. High above your head is the famed stained glass window of Magen David, designed in 1882. With everything going on around you, you might not think to look down at your feet, but I implore you to do so! Throughout the Synagogue, you'll marvel at the incredible gilded and polychromic arabesque parquet. Arabesque flooring is defined by its use of flowers, foliage, interlaced to create this mesmerizing pattern. Every inch of this interior is covered in decorations, and the place seems to vibrate from all the gold inside.
High above your head is the grandiose vaulted cupola. It is covered in lavish gilded decorations and vibrant colours. The skylight, in the shape of the star of David with pale red points, allows light to flow into the interior, illuminating the room with an otherworldly glow.
NOTE: the Spanish Synagogue is under construction and will be closed until late 2020. Check their website for updates.
On the north side of the roundabout, you'll see the tall, puzzling statue of Franz Kafka designed by artist Jaroslav Róna. Franz Kafka, despite writing all of his literature in German, was a prodigy from the city of Prague. He was born here and grew up in the old Jewish ghetto. His bar mitzvah was even held in another stop on our tour; the Old-New synagogue. His memory and influence on the city live on through these little dedications put up for him throughout the city. Kafka is most notable for his literature which focused on anxiety and alienation, no doubt influenced by his life in Prague's Jewish ghetto. This statue in the square depicts the images of Franz Kafka atop the shoulders of a headless figure. This piece was designed as a reference to Kafka's 1912 story entitled "Description of a Struggle."
Continue walking down Široká until you reach Pařížská street. This is also known as Paris Street. Along Paris Street is where you'll find the high-end designer shops and trendy cafes. Inspired by the tree-lined streets of Paris and other fashionable European cities, this street saw a massive redesign in the 20th century under the umbrella of Art Nouveau. The intersections of Pařížská and Široká road is where you can find the most stunning examples of Romantic Art Nouveau architecture in Czech.
Restaurace U Stare Synagogy
Take a stroll down Červená street where you'll come across one of the most incredible examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Prague. While baroque is the predominant style of architecture throughout the city, this part of town was rebuilt in the 20th century, and as such here we see many examples of gorgeous Art Nouveau. This is the Restaurant, located beside the High Synagogue, was built in 1907 by architects František Weyr and Richard Klenka. While most art nouveau buildings in Prague were covered in white or pale pastel stucco, this building is painted a dark grey, sometimes almost purple looking, colour. Against the rest of the surrounding structures, this really makes it stand out! The building is trimmed in bright gold, and its red-tiled roof is complemented with flourishes of deep red and dark wood trim. In the early 1900s, the Czech Republic was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. As such as the Art Nouveau style we see a more of a Secession Style popular in Austria.
On the corner of Červená and Maiselova street, you'll find the Roccoco style Jewish Town Hall. But sandwiched between the Town Hall and the Restaurace U Stare Synagogy an unassuming beige stucco building with steep red roof. Hidden inside these walls is one of the most elite synagogues in the quarter. This is the High Synagogue or 'Vysoká synagoga'. The "High" refers to the fact that it was built on the first floor, above ground level, to prevent the constant flooding the rest of the city suffered from. It was also located inside what used to be the Jewish Council of Elders room and wasn't accessible to the public. The synagogue was renovated from an old renaissance estate and the interior transformed into a space modelled after the great High Synagogue built in Krakow, Poland in 16th century. The magnificent Mordechai Maisel donated the funds for its construction as well as granting them a few of his historical pieces. These included such precious items as his ancient Torah and silver accessories. Spared from the war were hundreds of old Hebrew books which were of great importance to the Jewish people.
Today, the interior of the synagogue is the best preserved of all the ones in the quarter, but unfortunately, it is not open to the public. Standing outside the walls, you can imagine the high gothic ribbed vaults which cover the ceiling, the gilded stucco rosettes decorating the peaks of the vaults and the beautiful golden menorah which flanks either side of the great Torah in the centre.
Jewish Town Hall
Back to the corner of Maiselova and Červená street, we come to find the Jewish Town Hall. Although the original was destroyed in a fire in 1754, this new version maintains the Rococo inspired design of the original. The hall was used as a local meeting house for the community. The building was, once more, financed by Mordechai Maisel, who at the time was the richest men in Prague. The older name for this building was actually the Maisel Town Hall.
Take your eyes up from the street level to the top where you'll find a magnificent clock tower and spire. The top of the spire is finished with a finial in the shape of the star of David with a small bell in the centre. This was used to call people to prayer or to announce meetings inside the town hall. But what really makes this building unique are the two clocks. While the large of the two on the very top of the tower is the most prominent, the smaller one is actually the one we're going to focus on. This clock, which is located on the northern dormer window, has a dial which includes Hebrew numbers and whose dials runs counterclockwise. It is to be read the same as Hebrew is read, from right to left.
Old-New Jewish Synagogue
Standing guard over this area of the quarter is the solemn and enduring structure of the Old-New Jewish Synagogue, also know as Altneushul in Yiddish. This is the very first gothic building built in Prague, completed in 1270. It is the best example of Cistercian Gothic in Bohemia. It is also the oldest standing synagogue in Europe that is still used for religious services. It's one thing to visit a building as a museum, but another to use it in practice, just as it has been used for almost 1000 years. This place has been the spiritual heart of the Jewish quarter since it's construction. It was a place where people would not only come for prayer, but also for celebrations and as a place of refuge. It is a legend that the synagogue was first built atop a base of stones brought from Jersusalem by angels to the city of Prague. Originally the temple was called the "New Synagogue" since it was the first one of its kind in the city. But as time past and newer synagogues began popping up, it became known as the "old" synagogue. Today, they combine the two nicknames into once to preserves its historical value.
From the outside of the building, you can study its medieval twin nave design. On the western facade, you can see the dark red gothic brick gables and rather obtrusive support pillars which jut out from the sides. The lower roofline has a few large windows which look into the nave of the synagogue. Before there was an addition added where women could come and pray, this was the only place women could witness the services. As per Jewish doctrine, men and women are not allowed to sit the same space inside a synagogue. This new annexe is located just on the northern side, to the left of this facade. Twelve gothic brick window encircle the synagogue to let light inside. These twelve windows are representative of the 12 Israeli tribes, a number which is often repeated inside.
One of the most important legends from this synagogue is that of the Golem of Prague. In Jewish folklore, a golem is a magical creature who is created from clay or mud by a powerful ritual. In 1389, over 3,000 Jews living in Prague were murdered by Catholics in a devastating event. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel feared for his people after these attacks and decided to protect them he needed to create a Golem. He went to the banks of the Vltava River and performed Hebrew incantations which created the Golem. The implored the Golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks from there on out. The Golem lived in the attic of the synagogue and remained there in silence until his time of need. During WWII, a nazi agent came to the temple to destroy it. He entered through the attic from the stairs on the outside and encountered the Golem. He tried to stab it, but the Nazi was killed instead, and it is said that in doing so, the Golem helped protect the synagogue from being destroyed. Today, there is a set of iron stairs on the exterior which once was used to access the attic. The last few steps have been removed to prevent anyone from entering the resting place of the Golem, in case they awaken him once more.
The interior of the synagogue is a hodgepodge of the several centuries of designs. The building has been expanded over the years, but the central nave has remained mostly unchanged since the 14th century. Entering synagogue, you come in through the vestibule built in the 15th century. You'll pass under the early gothic tympanum with a relief atop it featuring a tree with 12 vines, also representing those same 12 Israeli tribes we mentioned earlier.
Entering the nave of the synagogue, we can see that it's a double nave design which slightly imitates a catholic church layout. This is because there were no Jewish architects at the time, so the designers who built this synagogue were drawing off their experience in building Catholics churches. Although there are not as many rules to building a synagogue in comparison to churches, the temple's main focal point should be on the central axis to face Jerusalem. The ceiling of this great synagogue features a unique form of vaulting which is comprised of a five-rib vault instead of the traditional four. This fifth rib always arches towards the exterior walls to help with structural support. The decorating throughout the temple features only leaves and other natural elements since Jews did not allow images of the human to be portrayed in a religious context.
In the centre of the nave is the bimah, an elevated platform where the rabbi comes to read the Torah during services. This bimah is the very same one from the late 15th century. Unlike some Catholic churches where the priests are hidden by the choir screen, the bimah allows the entire congregations to see the rabbi as he speaks. Surrounding the bimah are rows of seats which also flip down to be desks. Desks are needed inside a synagogue since this is where medieval Jews would come to read and discuss philosophy and religions for hours.
Along the northern wall of the temple is the large red flag, which is the flag of the Jewish Community of Prague. It shows the Star of David with a small golden kipa (a traditional hat worn by Jewish men) in the centre of the star. Surrounding the flag is the Hebrew prayer 'Shema Yisrael' embroidered in gold thread. The flag was given to the people of Prague's Jewish community by Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor in recognition for their services in defence of Prague during the Thirty Years War.
Down the street from the Old-New Synagogue, on the corner of U Starého hřbitova street is the oldest baroque synagogue in Prague, the Klausen Synagogue. In addition to being the oldest baroque building, it is also the largest surviving synagogue. The name of the temple comes from the Latin word "claustrum" which means "small rooms". The original building which once stood here was made up of three small rooms or spaces; a synagogue for religious services, a ritual bath, and a Talmud school where the renowned Rabbi Loew taught. The new 16th-century synagogue sits on the same site as the previous temple which burnt down in the early 1600s.
While the exterior of the building is rather simple, but the interior is where this place truly shines. Stucco details decorate the ceiling and galleries. Motifs of ribbons and fruit, painted in pale greens, intertwine overhead. During the second world war, the Nazis destroyed most of the beautiful historic baroque decorations and furnishings and turned the building into an ample storage space. But one item was spared; the Holy Torah Ark. The Torah Ark is a cabinet like a piece of furniture found in temples where the precious Torah scrolls are kept. Standing at the front of the synagogue you'll still find this fantastic, three-storey tall work of art. It is made entirely of marble, a mixture of red and green stones carved into an almost architectural feature. Perhaps it was simply too large and heavy for the Nazis to move but for whatever reasons you feel like you're truly standing in front of something extraordinary when you visit since so many of these items were lost after the war. On each level of the Ark are various Hebrew inscriptions.
Sitting in a glass case in front of the Ark is a copy of the Torah scroll unfurled. Different ornamental items used by the rabbi during services are also displayed in the glass case for visitors to admire. Many of these items would not usually be visible to the public during services, so this is an excellent opportunity to get up close and learn more about each item. It's essential to know that this unrolled Torah is a copy of the original since Jews do not allow holy text to be on public display. You can see Silver Torah shields, used to display to the congregation what reading would take place that day. You can study the gold Hanukkah lamps and a silver Pidyon ha-Ben trayf from the 19th century which depicts a scene of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. One of my favourite parts of the synagogue is the single circular stained glass window. The pale blue circle is decorated with the star of David in the beautiful golden glass. Against the rather monotone colours of the interior, this vibrant burst of colour really stands out!
Old Jewish Cemetery
Behind the Klausen Synagogue, we find the moss-covered stones and footstep worn pathways of the Old Jewish Cemetery. Here is where some of the oldest residents of Prague's Jewish Quarter have been laid to rest. The original Jewish cemetery was located where we can now find Vladislava street. The original cemetery was dubbed the "Jewish Garden" as most of it was left to the elements, and it became overgrown and wild. Residents of the neighbourhood began to complain about the graveyard's smell, and it was ordered to be removed in 1478. Morbidly, the roads of New Town were actually built atop the old tombstones. Although there is no recorded history of when the Old Cemetery (then the new cemetery) was established, we do know that it's earliest recorded gravestone is from 1439. The last person to be buried here was during the 17th century after Emperor Josef II banned burials anywhere inside the city walls for hygienic reasons.
Waking into this cemetery for the first time is a powerful moment for those who have never seen it before. We usually think of cemeteries in a very organized and orderly way. Each stone given its own plot of land sectioned off a few feet away from another. But the Old Jewish Cemetery is entirely different. The gravestones look like a pile of dominos, stacked one on top of the other in an almost haphazard fashion. The sprawling grounds of the cemetery roll up and down spread out on various levels. In Jewish law, deceased ancestors are not allowed to be moved or tombstones to be removed. Despite buying more and more land eventually, there was no space left for new burials. Because there was nowhere left to expand, a new layer of soil was piled on top of the old graves to make room for new ones. In some areas, there are more than 12 layers of graves stacked on top of each other! There is something genuinely overpowering upon seeing these piles of graves. The magnitude of the number of people who once lived in this area thrust upon you.
Studying the various tombstones is one of the most interesting parts of walking through the graveyard. Even if you can't read the Hebrew words carved into the stones, each one is still visually arresting. There are two different kinds of monuments in the cemetery. One is a simple headstone, these are the most common ones you'll see almost everywhere throughout the cemetery. The other one is much larger and looks almost like a stone tent. These are called tumbas and were for significant members of the community during the baroque era. In the 16th century, Jewish gravestones were not just marked in Hebrew with the date of the persons birth and death. They also included a eulogy of the life of the deceased. This is why most of the gravestones are covered in text, almost so much so that they look like an ornamental pattern.
Later on, in the 17th century, these eulogies were simplified into symbolic characterizations, which gives a metaphoric glimpse into the character of the person buried below. Some of these emblems also might signify the occupations of the person or what clan they might belong to. Two hands denote that they beloved to the Aron Tribe of priests, a bear and a kettle refer to the Levi family, a mouse is the symbol of the Masiel family.
The oldest tombstone in the cemetery is that of Avigdor Kara buried in a tumbas in 1439. Other famous graves you can see when visiting are the tomb of the districts benefactor Mordechai Maisel who died in 1601, the tomb of Rabbi Low and his wife Pearl who died in 1609, astronomer David Gans who died in 1613 and the grave of doctor and physicists Josef del Medigo who past in 1665.
On the northern side of the Klausen Synagogue, we find one of the saddest areas of the cemetery, Nephele Hill. Nephele Hill is the where children are buried who died before the age of one month. Nephele is the Hebrew word for miscarriage since many of the children buried here died due t miscarriages. It's impressive to see that something we so often cover up or hide in this modern world was given such reverence and care hundreds of years ago. Sometimes there is something to be learned from our past to change the future.
An inscription above the entrance to the Ceremonial Hall reads "the Holy society, performing merciful deeds." This building, although now a reconstruction of the original, was the place of the Burial Brotherhood who preformed the ceremonial death rites on the dead of Prague's Jewish quarter. The design of the exterior was done by architect J. Gerstl in 1906-1908. It was produced in neo-Roman style complete with details like heavy masonry, the columns and detailed capitals on the windows, round arches and simplistic iron grilles. The hall was used until the 1920s as a mortuary but today is apart of the Jewish museum. The morgue was initially located in the basement, and the first floor was where ritual purification of the dead (taharah) took place.
The interior of the ceremonial hall has some the most exquisite mosaic work. The geometric floral patterns seem almost too pretty for a mortuary and blooms across the entire first floor. Inside various display cases inside the ceremonial hall are items from the history of the Prague Burial Society. The most amazing of these pieces is a series of baroque paintings from the 1770s. Each one of these 15 paintings details the various customs and ceremonies which take place after someone dies in the Jewish community. There are also some fascinating relics from the graveyard safely stored inside. These are some of the oldest tombstones which can no longer be left outside due to their deterioration.
Head back across U Starého hřbitova street and turn north a few feet to Maiselova 41/21. Maiselova street is named after Mordecai Maisel, a name you must be sick of hearing by now, but the repetition only cements his great importance. Historically this street was nicknamed "gold street" due to the vast amounts of gold which Maisel donated to the crown to aid his war against the Turks. This apartment complex was built in 1911 by Klenka and Weyr. The two silhouettes on the front window were meant to resemble Mordecai Maisel and his beautiful wife. In the centre between them is a star of David surrounded by, and you might be able to guess it, piles of gold coins.
Siroka Street is another avenue where you can find some of the best views of Prague's incredible 19th and 20th-century architecture. #9 on this street is an old apartment building built in 1908 with one of the most mythical doorways seen anywhere in the city. Further up the building, there are some gorgeous mosaic cameos with images of traditional Czech men and women.
#36 is the old Jewish General Hospital. #11 is a Gothic masterpiece from architect Josef Blecha, built-in 1905, called the House At Saint George. Its namesake is featured on the facade of the building standing atop the slain corpse of the giant dragon.
Walking south down Maiselova street, set a few meters away from the road, behind a set of bright blue painted fences, is the Maisel Synagogue. Finally, we reach the synagogue named after the man who seemingly is responsible for almost the entirety of Prague's Jewish quarter. If you weren't looking closely, you might not recognize the building as an old synagogue at all. The architectural style seems so similar to that of old neo-gothic palaces. The first synagogue built here was made in 1590 but was severely damaged in 1689 in the fire which ran rampant throughout the Jewish ghetto. For a synagogue named after one of the richest men in Prague, it is ironic that after WWII, when the temple fell to ruins, there was no money to restore it. It wasn't until the 19th century when a full restoration took places to restore the synagogue to its former glory.
There is a charming legend about how Mordechai Maisel earned so much money over his lifetime. The legend goes that once Maisel was just a simple man who owned a small shop. One day, a man came by and left a large chest inside the shop and said he would return later to retrieve it. The man never returned, but Maisel, an honest man, did not open the chest. Years later, when Maisel saw his city on the verge of ruin and in dire need to finance, he opened the chest. Because Maisel hadn't been greedy and opened it right away, the divine blessed him, and the chest was full of gold coins. Although the reality is more that he was just an incredibly hard worker and a dedicated member of the community, the legend is still an amusing story.
The interior of the synagogue contains opulent nine-branched gilded candelabras which decorate the galleries arcades above. It also is home to one of the oldest synagogal curtains from the end of the 16th century. During WWII, this synagogue was gutted and used to store over 6,000 pieces of Jewish artwork from all over synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia. The pieces saved after the war were given back to the State Jewish Museum, but the Maisel synagogue kept a collection of Silver used in Jewish rituals from Czech synagogues throughout history.
The small and unassuming Pinkas Synagogue is the best places to end this tour. It is perhaps the most sombre of all the synagogues. From the exterior, this place looks more like a family home than a temple, and that is for a good reason. In 1492 this was home to a distinguished Jewish family, the Horowitz family. They were extremely religious and built a private oratory attached to their house. In 1535, the oratory was replaced with a public synagogue that the family could share with their community. In the basement of the house, we can still find the 15th-century Mikvah. A Mikvah is a ritual bath used in Judaism to achieve ritual purity. Beside the Mikvah there are several old wells and ancient the cellars which are the earliest archaeological discoveries of ancient Jewish settlements in Prague. Today, this synagogue is most notable for containing a moving memorial to the Czech victims of the Holocaust.
The interior is very austere and yet also feels like a museum of architectural styles since there are so many different ones on display. On the ceiling, you can see the gothic reticulated vault system. On the walls, we can study the Renaissance ornamentation. The bimah in the centre of the room is from the baroque era since the floor of the synagogue was below ground level and over the years was subject to multiple floods. The grille which surrounds the bimah was decorated in rococo style and donated by successful businessmen, Joachim von Popper. The grill has the emblem of Prague's Jewish Community, as seen in the Old-New synagogues red flag, embedded into the wrought iron.
One of the most surprising elements of the synagogue is the geometric art-nouveau stained glass found on the windows throughout. The delicate cool colours and abstract shapes lend to the subdued atmosphere inside while still adding an artistic element.
A portion of the walls inside the synagogue has been covered in 78,000 names of the Jewish members of the Czech Republic who were victims of the Holocaust. These names are arranged by their various individual communities where the victims came from. In these sections, they are listed from their birth to their death. Often you'll still find family members making a pilgrimage here to pray for their fallen ancestors.
One of the most moving parts of the synagogue is on the first floor where you can see an exhibition of pictures drawn by children from the Terezín ghetto between 1942 and 1944. Sadly, most of the children who authored these drawings were sent to Auschwitz where they were killed. These drawing sessions were actually led by painter Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Dicker-Brandeis provided drawing lessons to the children in the ghetto, but instead of just following the drab curriculum, which was provided by the Nazis, she encouraged the children's artistic skills as a kind of therapy. It was a way of the procession the loss of their homes and the harshness of life in the ghetto. She had the children draw their emotions and their memories. We are today left such a compelling look into the eyes of a child during this tumultuous time. Dicker-Brandeis herself was sent to Auschwitz where she herself was murdered. With a few moments warning before being put onto the trains, she hid all 4,500 of these drawings in a suitcase and stashed it away inside her house where the Nazi wouldn't find it. Years later, it was uncovered by the Jewish Museum in Prague. They took it upon themselves to ensure the memories of these children lived on, even when they did not.
After this tour, you are no doubt, feeling a bit hungry. And what better thing to eat than a modern, kosher meal. There are still a few remaining Kosher restaurants in the area, but the best has to be King Solomon. They have a wonderful philosophy about their cooking. They are incredibly passionate about following the traditions of their ancestors while also incorporating fresh ingredients and new methods of cooking. Their grilled fallow deer steak with mushroom sauce and potato pancake is my absolute favourite! The dishes are a bit pricey, but such is the price of tradition. Skip the wine as I found it to be the most over-priced, and you can absolutely enjoy the food without it!
This brings us to the end of the tour. If you're a history buff like me, hopefully, you've enjoyed all the details I've included in this tour to help you walk back in time and discover the trails of the amazing Jewish people of Prague.
If you have any questions about the tour, please let me know in the comments. If you've travelled to Prague's Jewish Quarter before let me know your favourite location or piece of information which stayed with you long after visiting.
Happy travels adventures!
Full disclosure: I was SUPER sick with some wicked vertigo when I visited the Jewish Quarter so unfortunately I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I normally would have. Thanks for wiki commons and Instagram for helping me fill out this post :)