Wrapping up our survey of the east side of the Vltava River in Prague is Josefov, the old Jewish Quarter. Prague’s Jewish Museum, which encompasses 6 historic sites, offers several types of tickets to tour these facilities.
Unfortunately, photography is not permitted anywhere other than the cemetery (and then only with a permit), so I will intersperse my commentary on the entire museum amid photos from the cemetery and a few outside shots.
We started at the Maisel Synagogue and purchased the ~US$30 (per person) complete ticket, which allows access to all of the sites at Prague’s Jewish Museum, as well as a photography permit for the cemetery.
The Maisel Synagogue (1590-1592) had a good collection of Judaica, and quite a bit of information about the religion, but we didn’t linger here too long, and continued on to the Pinkas Synagogue (1535).
By far the most somber part of Prague’s Jewish Museum, the Pinkas Synagogue was converted into a memorial to the Bohemian and Moravian Jews murdered by the Nazis, and the walls are inscribed with all 80,000 of their names. I cannot get my head around the wanton killing of so very many people, and seeing all of their names together really gives a sense of the loss of life.
It’s too bad photography isn’t permitted here, as the place is chock-full of emotion, but here’s a photo from the museum’s official site:
Image from jewishmuseum.cz
Upstairs was another sobering display, the art of Jewish children interred at the Terezín concentration camp, located a short ways from Prague, complete with crayon drawings of Nazi guards and executions. Heavy stuff indeed.
Outside the Pinkas Synagogue is the wonderful Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý židovský hřbitov). Active from 1439-1787, around 12,000 people are buried in this small area. According to Jewish custom, those buried and their tombstones are not to be moved or bothered in any way, so over the centuries the headstones have settled and been placed atop one another, creating a delightful jumble of old markers.
Although a photography permit is technically required here (and I had one), nobody else seemed to have bothered, and unlike the other sites at the Jewish Museum, nobody was on hand to yell at people for doing so.
Many of the stones had numerous coins and pebbles holding down bits of paper, presumably containing prayers.
We strolled slowly through the cemetery, enjoying its overgrown atmosphere, and eventually ended up at the Ceremonial Hall.
Ceremonial Hall and Cemetery
Inside the Ceremonial Hall (1911-1912) are very detailed exhibits about Jewish ceremony, more detailed than we took the time to read, in fact, as really reading all of the voluminous information at the sites of the Jewish Museum would be a multi-day affair, and we had but half a day.
After a quick lunch at Cafe Nostress we wrapped up the center of the Jewish Museum by visiting the Klaus Synagogue.
The Klaus Synagogue (1573-1604) contained yet more exhibits on ritual (mainly mitzvahs), the Jewish calendar, and the Torah.
We next walked a few blocks toward the Old-New Synagogue, which is located next to a large, fanicfully-embellished Victorian-style building (above).
Along with the cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue (ca. 1250) was my favorite part of the museum. On entering, I was given a yamulke to wear, and we entered the side-room. This room contained about a half dozen large coffers with heavy metal doors that were used to store payments for the tax collector. As a barely-tolerated minority, the Jews of Prague were taxed quite heavily in centuries past, and so needed a large secure space to store their valuables.
The weight of nearly 8 centuries hung heavily in the air as we quietly walked around. Unlike the other buildings in the museum complex, this one had few exhibits and is still used as an active Synagogue.
I always enjoy the funny names things wind up with – this is called the “Old-New” Synagogue because when it was build in the mid-1200s, it was the “new” kid in town, but after a couple hundred years, after the older ones were gone, it received the “Old-” prefix. Much like the Yeni Camii (“New Mosque”, dating from ~1640) in Istanbul.
Last up, the Spanish Synagogue (1868). This house of worship had intricate patterned walls in a vibrant array of colors, and was truly a treat for the eyes, but sadly not the camera — I saw several people get yelled at for snapping photos with their cellphones. In addition to the lovely decoration, there were great exhibits about life in Josefov (the historical name of the Jewish Ghetto), and the Nazi occupation.
Spanish Synagogue detail
Eyes and feet both very tired, we made our way back to our hotel. Certainly at least the Pinkas, Old-New, and Spanish Synagogues, as well as the cemetery, should be on any Prague first-timer’s itinerary, but perhaps the others can be skipped.
- Part 1: Vysehrad
- Part 2: Vysehradsky hrbitov (Vysehrad cemetery)
- Part 3: Karluv Most (Charles Bridge)
- Part 4: Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square)
- Part 5: Letecke Muzeum Kbely (Czech Air Force Museum)
- Part 6: Stare Mesto (Old Town)
- Part 7: Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square)
- Part 8: Prazsky orloj (Astronomical Clock)
- Part 9: Josefov (Jewish Quarter) <– You are here
- Part 10: Vltava River
- Part 11: St. Nicholas Cathedral (Chram sv. Mikulase)
- Part 12: Wallenstein Palace (Valdstejnsky palac)
- Part 13: Kampa Island
- Part 14: Mala Strana street art
- Part 15: Petrin Hill
- Part 16: Mala Strana
- Part 17: Mala Strana house signs
- Part 18: Strahovský klášter (Strahov Monastery)
- Part 19: Schwarzenberský palác (Schwarzenberg Palace)
- Part 20: Toy Musuem
- Part 21: St. Vitus Cathedral gargoyles
- Part 22: St. Vitus Cathedral (exterior)
- Part 23: St. Vitus Cathedral (interior)
- Part 24: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), I
- Part 25: Prazky Hrad (Prague Castle), II