Historical Monuments of the Former Prague Jewish Quarter
Posted by Gil Travel on Oct 2, 2019 11:30:00 PM
Prague has had a vibrant Jewish community since the 10th century. With time and increasing antisemitism, however, the community was concentrated within the walled ghetto, which centuries later became known as Josefov, Jewish Quarter, or Josefstad. This largely demolished area, surrounded by the Old Town of Poland’s capital, is a site of great tragedy, but also of history, culture, great architecture, art, and of life. It’s home to a number of significant monuments, many of which are now a part of the Jewish Museum in Prague – a Jewish heritage museum and one of the city’s most popular institutions, established in 1906. It houses 40,000 objects, 100 000 books, and a large archive of the history of Czech and Moravian Jewish communities situated in the Smichov Synagogue.
Built during the golden age of the ghetto, at the end of the 1500s, the beautiful neo-Gothic Maisel Synagogue stands today as one of the historical monuments of Josefov. The construction of this famous synagogue began with the renowned businessman Mordechai Maisel who, in 1590, gained the building site, and the synagogue was consecrated in 1592. In 1689, the ghetto fire heavily damaged the synagogue, and it had been through several reconstructions since. The latest restoration was in 2014-2015, which emphasized the structure’s decorative elements. As other monuments on this list, the Misel Synagogue belongs to the Jewish Community of Prague and is a part of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Josefov’s largest synagogue and its only surviving early Baroque synagogue also began its existence thanks to the ghetto’s benefactor, Mordechai Maisel. In 1570s, Maisel decided to build a complex of buildings, called Klausen, with a synagogue and a private Talmudic school. However, the entire Klausen was burned down in the 1689 fire, after which a rabbi of the destroyed synagogue initiated the construction of a new, early-baroque synagogue at the same site, named after the former complex. It was finished in 1694 and the exquisite Torah Ark added in 1696. Visitors are welcomed to this restored structure to learn about Torah and Talmud, the prayer service, Jewish Festivals, Jewish family life, and much more.
The exposition that started in the Klausen Synagogue continues in the Ceremonial hall of the Prague Jewish Burial Society. This beautiful Romanesque Revival Style building was once the place where the last services to the community’s deceased members were held. However, the hall hasn’t been used for its original purpose since World War I. Instead, it’s been used by the Jewish Museum in Prague since 1926, which today teaches its visitors about Jewish rituals connected to death and about the Old Jewish Cemetery. There is also a hugely valuable cycle of fifteen paintings here, depicting rituals and customs performed by the Burial Society, painted around 1772.
Old Jewish Cemetery
This is one of Europe’s largest Jewish cemeteries and one of Prague’s most significant Jewish monuments. It served as a burial site from the 15th century until 1787, and it’s the final resting place of many renowned people, including Mordecai Meisel. The oldest gravestone is from 1439 and commemorates rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara. In 1784, Emperor Josef II banned burials inside the city for hygienic reasons, and when they couldn’t get the permission to purchase land to expand the cemetery, the Jewish community had to add new layers of soil where possible. That’s why you’ll find places with as many as twelve layers here, but with the older graves preserved, and it’s also the reason why the surface of the cemetery is higher than the streets and why it has such a large number of gravestones.
It is believed that Josefov’s newest, Moorish Revival Style synagogue was built on the site of the area’s oldest synagogue, known as Old School or Altschule. Old School was first renovated in 1837 by the community’s modernist faction, but because it lacked capacity, it was demolished thirty years later and the Spanish Synagogue built in 1868. In 1935, a functionalistic building was added to the synagogue, serving as a hospital to the Jewish Community until WWII. Neglected for more than two decades, the Spanish Synagogue was wonderfully restored, having its grand re-opening in 1998. It houses a greatly valuable exposition on the Jewish modern history for its visitors to learn about.
This is Prague’s second oldest surviving synagogue and a place of immense historical, cultural and architectural, even archeological value, as excavations show that this was an inhabited site of worship since the 15th century. The Pinkas Synagogue serves the religious community and it houses a Holocaust memorial that commemorates 78,000 Czech Jewish victims. The building, with its elements of Gothic and Renaissance styles, is also home to an exhibition of pictures drawn by the children in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt, during drawing lessons by painter Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Most of the children, as well as their teacher, died in Auschwitz, but thanks to Dicker-Brandeis hiding them, 4,500 pictures were given to the Jewish Museum in Prague after the war.
Topics: Jewish Heritage, World Travel