Josefov Old Town and Jewish Quarter: sights

Josefov

Josefov is the most mysterious district of Prague, full of legends and myths. Until 1850 it was the heart of Prague’s Jewish community and therefore it is also called the Jewish Quarter. The area is situated between the right bank of the Vltava river and Old Town Square. It takes its name Josefov from Emperor Josef II, whose reforms improved living conditions for Jews in Prague.

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History

The Jewish Ghetto was created in the 13th century, at which time the streets with a large Jewish population were united into a separate district, the Jewish Town. Thus, within the fortifications of Stare Mesto, a walled enclave was formed with a gateway that served as an exit for Jews to the often insecure Christian world.

All activities of the population outside the Jewish Town were strictly regulated by a multitude of rules and decrees. Thus, whereas in earlier times the Jews could engage in any kind of activity, they were now limited to a small set of professions, above all that of usury. The Middle Ages were marked by a more or less moderate degree of intolerance toward the Jews, which sometimes took the form of outright persecution.

Despite all the persecution and oppression, the ghetto grew and strengthened its position over the centuries. With the abolition of the demeaning “Pale of Settlement” in the 18th century, the better-off left the Jewish quarter to settle in the safer suburbs, and the ghetto gradually became a haven for the poor and orthodox Jews who did not want to assimilate into the outside world. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Jewish town had finally become an overpopulated slum where vice and disease flourished.

Between 1883 and 1913 the city council initiated a complete reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter in Prague. As a result, the area was transformed beyond recognition, with wide thoroughfares and magnificently decorated houses in the Prague Secession style replacing dirty courtyards, dark alleys, and brothels.

Thanks to the efforts of Prague’s intellectuals, the historical core of Josefov was spared from demolition. Half a century later, the six ancient synagogues, the Jewish Town Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery were “lucky enough” once again in the dark ages of Hitler’s protectorate (1930-1945) to host the “Museum of the Vanished Race” in the former Ghetto.

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Jewish scholars were temporarily allowed to live and work there in order to make an inventory of the most valuable objects that were brought to Prague from the synagogues of occupied Europe. Thanks to their dedication, the vast majority of the exhibits were saved.

Jewish Quarter – the legend of the Golem

In the darkness of the night, on a nearby river bank, Rabbi Leo made a human-like figure out of clay, and with the help of a magic shema, on which was written the secret name of a god, he brought his brainchild to life. The golem became an obedient servant of the rabbi and assisted him in his synagogue and home services. Every Sabbath, when the Sabbath came, the magic tablet was taken out of the Golem’s mouth and the monster became motionless. But one day the rabbi’s favorite daughter fell ill, and he forgot to take the plaque-sham out of Golem’s mouth out of grief. The monster went on a rampage and began to smash everything around him. The rabbi heard the terrified cries of his neighbors and came running and ripped the plaque out of the clay monster’s mouth. The Golem crumbled and turned into a pile of clay, which is still stored somewhere in the attic of the Old Synagogue today.

The tale of the Golem exists in various versions in other Jewish neighborhoods in Europe as well.

Attractions

Old Jewish Cemetery

Jews were buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery for several centuries, namely from 1439 to 1787, before the emperor issued a decree forbidding burials in the Jewish Quarter. More than 80,000 people were buried there in total, but the size of the cemetery was small, so sometimes as many as 12 people were buried in the same place at different times. Most of the graves have become nameless, the inscriptions have been erased by time, many of the inscriptions were lost in the Middle Ages, the old tombstones were thrown away to bury another body. But the tombstones of some famous people have survived. For example, the tombstone of the legendary Rabbi Lev (Yehuda ben Betzalel). According to legend, he created the famous Golem, the clay monster.

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Old Synagogue

It was completed around 1270 and is one of the oldest Gothic buildings in Bohemia and the oldest functioning synagogue in the world.

The history of the construction and the very name of the Old Synagogue are shrouded in myths and legends. According to one of them, it was built from stones taken from the ruins of the Jerusalem temple and after the coming of the Messiah the synagogue was supposed to be moved to Jerusalem.

It was in this synagogue that Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel, the legendary creator of Golem, the clay colossus whose remains are still allegedly kept in its depths, served.

The Moses Sculpture

In 1905, František Bilek created the statue of Moses, but it was not erected until 32 years later, not far from the Old Synagogue, when it was located in the villa of the important modernist sculptor.

Monument to Franz Kafka

In 2003 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Franz Kafka’s birth an unusual 3.5 meter high statue was erected. The sculptor Jaroslav Rohn was inspired by Kafka’s early novel “The Description of a Struggle”, about a man who wandered through Prague sitting on the shoulders of another man. The sculptor decided to depict Kafka on the shoulders of a headless giant-suit. This paradoxical composition resurrects the legendary image of Golem, and symbolizes mental pain and confusion, which forever settled in the soul of the great writer.

By the way, right next to the monument is a ticket center, where you can buy a single ticket for all the objects of the Jewish Quarter. The site of the Jewish museum, in Russian they have some kind of glitch, but you can estimate the cost of tickets and the schedule in English.

Spanish Synagogue

The Spanish synagogue, built in 1864-1868 in the very popular Neo-Moorish style of the time, is one of the few 19th century contributions to Josefov architecture. Its name bears testimony to the memory of the Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 16th century and settled in Prague before finally settling in the Netherlands.

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The High Synagogue

The High Synagogue shares a common history with the Jewish Town Hall: they were built at the same time and for a long time formed a single whole. The synagogue got its name because the prayer hall, which was connected with the hall of meetings of the town hall, was not located at ground level, but on the second floor. In 19th century the buildings were separated, and the synagogue had a separate entrance with stairs.

Maisel Synagogue

It was built in 1592 as a place of family worship by the head of the Prague Jewish community Marek Mordecai Maisel, who remained in the popular memory as a generous and just possessor of untold wealth. The synagogue was twice severely damaged by fire, it was rebuilt and finally rebuilt in 1905 in a neo-Gothic style.

The Convent of St. Anežka of the Czech Republic

The monastery is not one of the Jewish museums in Prague, but it is located nearby, so it can also be visited.

Founded in 1234 by King Wenceslas I at the insistence of his sister Anežka (Agnes), the convent was one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture on Czech soil, and now houses the collection of medieval art in the National Gallery.

In the next picture it is clearly seen that the monastery stands as if in a pit. This is due to the fact that it was built before the decision was made to raise the level of the banks in order to protect against floods. Many old buildings in Prague either stand in a pit, or their first floor was filled in and became a magnificent basement.

Church of Saints Simon and Judas

This church, too, has nothing to do with the Jewish museum, but is in the Jewish quarter. Like the monastery of St. Anežka of the Czech Republic it stands in a pit.

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Josefov Old Town and Jewish Quarter: sights

Prague, Old Town

An article reviewing the sights of the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter in Prague. Gives useful tips and information: what to visit, opening hours, prices, addresses.

The Old Town and the Jewish Quarter in Prague flow seamlessly into each other, although the ghetto was once fenced off by a wall. We advise to visit them together to feel the difference.

Search for interesting tours in Prague on Sputnik8 and Tripster. Individual and group, without crowds of tourists and in Russian.

Content:

Old Town (Staré Město)

Old Town is located around the Old Town Square – the most visited place in Prague. Immediately we must say we did not like it at all. There is no authenticity: a lot of tourists, expensive establishments and cheesy souvenir shops. The houses are bland. Below is a list of things that caught our attention.

Old Town Square

The square is usually the first place tourists visit in Prague. From here begins most tours. On the square a lot of attractions, so we wrote a separate article about it.

Týn Church on Old Town Square in Prague

Karlův most

It is worth to visit the bridge at dawn if you do not want to get into the market crowd. On the bridge there are mountain artists and mountain musicians. They say there are not many tourists late at night – we didn’t check.

Other places in Prague :

Prague sights

Křižovnické náměstí (Charles Bridge Crusader Square)

The ensemble of the square is amazingly beautiful in the evening: the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Cathedral of St. Salvador and the Old Town Bridge Tower. It is a rare place in Prague where you stop paying attention to the crowds of tourists and really enjoy the beauty of buildings.

Useful selection :

Sightseeing in Prague's Old Town

Powder Tower (Prašná brána)

The 15th century Gothic gate on Náměstí Republiky (Republic Square) stands out among the surrounding buildings. There is an observation platform. Price 100 CZK. Address: nám. Republiky 5.

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Useful selection :

Prague Old Town Tours

Old Town Tours

We believe that Prague is one of those cities where without knowledge of history, legends and mysteries, it gets boring. In order not to be disappointed in the city, take a themed tour of the Old Town – for example, Magic and Mysticism of Prague or Right Bank Prague Walking Tour.

Old Town of Prague on a map

Jewish Quarter in Prague (Josefov)

Josefov is a former Jewish ghetto. The quarter justifies its name by the high cost of visiting the sights. However, it is surprisingly quiet and picturesque, and it is pleasant to walk around and look in the windows of expensive antique shops.

How to get to the Jewish Quarter in Prague? The best way is to take the metro and get off at the station Staroměstská, and then walk. You can also take streetcars No. 17 and 18 and get off at the same stop.

What to see in Prague's Jewish Quarter

Jewish museum, cemetery and synagogues.

A combo ticket costs 330 CZK and includes the Spanish, Maiselov, Pinkas and Klaus Synagogues, the Ceremonial Hall, the cemetery and a temporary exhibition. A combo ticket to visit all the sights of the quarter is 550 CZK. Alas, you can not buy a separate ticket to just the museum or just the cemetery! Synagogues did not interest us too much, so we did not visit.

Hours of operation: in winter from 9:00 to 16:30, in summer until 18:00. Closed on Sundays and Jewish holidays. Check the official website for holiday dates and hours of operation.

What to see in Prague's Jewish Quarter

Jewish Quarter in Prague

Holy Spirit Cathedral and the Kafka Monument

Kostel Svatého Ducha is the only church in the Jewish quarter. It is only possible to get inside during services. Nearby there is an unusual monument to Kafka.

Address: Široká Street, next to the Spanish Synagogue.

Useful selection:

Jewish Quarter sights in Prague

Streets

Streets Pariskaya, Kozya and Shiroká captivated us. Watch your step – among the paving stones in front of the houses you can find touching gilded In loving memory tiles in memory of fallen Jews.

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